Sixth Former Sophie Merrix has been offered a place at the British Athletics Parallel Success Academy after prevailing over thousands of athletes from around the United Kingdom.
After competing in the Sainsbury’s School Games in September, Sophie ranked best in the country for her age group in the 400m sprint, and fourth overall in the UK for the same event.
Aged only eight, Sophie suffered a stroke while on holiday in France, leaving her with partial paralysis. But since then she has made remarkable progress, gaining 12 GCSEs and achieving many sporting triumphs. Speaking about how her disability has impacted her, she said: “Training has been harder because of it, but it is amazing knowing I have overcome my disability.”
Sophie decided to take up competitive running after being recognised for her phenomenal speed before she had even started training. She recalls: “I started running again last year, and someone came over and told me that my time was the 17th best in Europe!” Since then, Sophie has been competing against the best after joining Chester-le-Street Athletics Club in September 2013 and showing tremendous promise in the 100m and 200m as well as the shot-put and discus.
Now, eight years after her stroke, Sophie has demonstrated courage, strength and determination and is ranked amongst the top female athletes of her age, regularly competing in national competitions.
After her acceptance into the British Athletics Parallel Success Academy, Sophie was invited to a National Talent Camp in Loughborough just before Christmas. Alongside 100 other gifted young athletes and their coaches, she was inspired by a variety of famous British competitors such as the heptathlete Katrina Johnson-Thompson and the record-breaking wheelchair sprinter Hannah Cockcroft.
“I was honoured to have the fastest female British Olympic sprinter since 1986 as a mentor the whole time,” said Sophie. “She really opened my eyes and showed me that women play an important part in every sport and that nothing need stop me from achieving my goals!”
Her family are incredibly proud, and her mother, Rachel Merrix, said: “A lot of people don’t think children have strokes and I think Sophie wants to show that they do, but they can recover.”
And that’s not where Sophie’s success ends. Last November Sophie won the Young Community Champion Award for 2014, an honour which recognises her involvement in the Lead Your Generation Volunteer Scheme, her sporting prowess, and the positive example she has set for others.
Sophie is currently studying for four A-Levels at Emmanuel College whilst continuing to train weekly with her Athletics Club, and hopes that she can be an inspiration for younger children with disabilities to overcome their challenges.
Georgia Middlemiss 12 Wooler