WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Only three years since bursting onto the global wheelchair racing scene Shelly Woods smashed the 1500m world-record last month, as she continues to round into a genuine 2012 Paralympic gold medal contender, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 24-year-old Blackpool athlete has long been hailed as Britain’s brightest female disability athlete since her predecessor, eleven-time Paralympic champion Dame Tanni Gray-Thompson.
Racing in the T54 category, Woods is enjoying a confidence-boosting 2010 following personal bests in distances from 200m all the way up to 5,000m. Coached by Pete Wyman on the track (who cycles ahead to push her on) and Adam Pratt in the gym, Woods has evidently put her demons from the London marathon last spring – where she suffered a flat tyre –firmly to bed.
Victory in the BUPA Great Manchester 10km put the wheels in motion for a superb summer for the former wheelchair basketball player, as she swiftly went onto break her 400m, 800m and 5,000m bests in the space of three days before capturing her first global mark – a scorching 3:21.22 in Switzerland:
“I’m really excited about my first world record and it feels great to have gone so fast, I’ve always wanted to own a world record. I was in the last race in 2007 when Chantal Petitclerc of Canada last set the world record of 3.24 and I remember finishing fourth about a second behind and thinking how fast and good she was to do that.
So for me to go 3:21 is fantastic and shows the training this season is going well and in the right direction and gives me some confidence. I knew I was capable of going fast and that the world record was a realistic thing for me to hit at some point; it was just a case of when and where, how fast and also winning the race. I was surprised to go under the record by three seconds though, as that’s quite a bit and it’s fast!” Woods exclaimed.
That is Shelly Woods all over – modest and politely spoken but with a quiet steely determination to push the boundaries and one day emulate her illustrious aforementioned heroine. Indeed, the recently engaged athlete is no stranger to overcoming adversity.
She started using a wheelchair at the age of eleven after a heavy 20ft fall from a tree which injured her spinal cord yet Woods’ unwavering belief that she would go onto achieve the same as any other in life was recognised ten-fold when she found the sport of athletics.
Her considerable success includes 1500m silver and 5,000m bronze (in a race re-run after a six-woman pile-up) at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, three London marathon medals (including 2007 gold) as well as Paralympic World Cup 800m and 1500m bronze and BWAA International 400m and 1500m gold and 100m silver this year.
2009 was certainly another year with medals galore and kept Woods firmly on track for glory in 2012:
“2009 was good,” Woods explained. “I ranked in the top-three in the world rankings on the track and on the road and I had some good races like coming second in the New York Marathon.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Woods is targeting the BUPA Great North Run – an event she won in 2005 – and the victory in the New York marathon this autumn:
“New York is one race I would love to win; having come second there three times,” Woods revealed. “I love travelling there and racing the marathon course - it suits me well but it’s tough with some monster climbs.”
With a slight fear of flying, such commitment to racing across the globe is testament to Woods’ determined approach to establish herself as more than a world-record holder and number one in just one event.
For the remainder of 2010, she will focus her energy on being in top shape for January’s World championships in New Zealand, where the target is understandably a gold medal:
“I’d love to win a gold medal and with the World’s being at an awkward time of year in our winter, I have had to plan things a bit differently,” Woods explained.
Planning is of extra importance now Woods has set a precedent with her world best, for she knows her rivals will now be gunning for her more than usual. But, ever the bubbly professional, Woods enjoys a friendly rivalry with her counterparts on the circuit:
“I love training and racing and representing my country, and I have a great relationship with my rivals,” she divulged.
“When I’m on the track and road, you have your game-face on and everything is about beating them so not so much niceness. But off the track, I’ve learned they are a bunch of great girls who I really respect and there is some good camaraderie.
But at the same time, all you want to do is beat them and make it really hard for them when racing, as they do to me. It’s what I get up train for everyday.”
And with that glimpse of spirited aggression to succeed, Woods is sure to capitalize on her recent form to forge deeper into the history books and capture that well-deserved gold in 2012.