Former Bishopbriggs Academy teacher Melanie Woods called up for European Para Athletics Championships

Some three years after an accident confined her to a wheelchair, a former Bishopbriggs Academy teacher is celebrating a Team GB wheelchair racing call up for the European Championships.

Melanie Woods in action at the Muller Wheelchair Marathon at Thruxton Circuit (Photo by Tom Dulat - British Athletics/British Athletics via Getty Images)

Melanie Woods has been named in the squad for the World Para Athletics European Championships which are taking place in Bydgoszcz, Poland, from June 1-5.

Mel is one of seven Scots in the 47-strong team and has been chosen for the T54 100m, 400m, 800m and 1500m events.

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She was PE teacher at Bishopbriggs before moving north to take up a new job. But all that was put on hold in January 2018 when she was struck by a car while out cycling.

She sustained a number of injuries but the most significant was the trauma to her spinal cord, resulting in paralysis from the waist down.

But her background as a PE teacher fuelled her determination to overcome and get back into sport in some capacity – and wheelchair racing was the chosen route.

"When I was first injured I was really just interested in getting back into sport and being active again,” explained Mel, originally from Drymen but who now lives in Anniesland.

"I was finding out about all these sports I'd probably seen and heard of before but didn't know much about.

"I was keen to try a number of different things and there was a group of really wheelchair racers that trained in Glasgow and seeing what they achieved was pretty inspiring so I went along to the club [Red Star Athletics, based at Crownpoint in Glasgow] and got involved.

"I could also put lots of hours into it. It was a sport I could do any time of day and didn't necessarily need to be with someone else. I could be independent, turn up at the track and get started in the chair.

"I was by no means competitive but being active in sport before I had a competitive nature so was keen to get involved in that.

"I liked the thought that I was improving - there was such a big margin to improve - so I guess I was kind of driven by that and continued to put hours in and train on a regular basis.

"I continued to compete and almost surprised myself with the results I put down and that encouraged me to keep going."

However like other sportsmen and women around the globe Mel’s routine was forced into drastic reorganisation when the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year.

She said: "At first I thought it was good for me because I felt like I still had a lot to learn and more training to do.

"I was quite relaxed at the thought that I could continue to train and when the competition came round I would have been a bit more ready. But as the year went on I was looking for something to come around.

"Fortunately we got a couple of races, including the British Championship [where Mel finished third in the 400m] before back into winter training again.

"This year it's still very early. We've had two competitions on the track and it's gone well and with the European Championships now on the horizon hopefully there will be some more competitions pop up before that.”

While her results had put her in the frame for a call-up, Melanie admitted her selection still came as a surprise.

She said: “It was on the horizon because there were minimum entry times that I was making.

"But at the end of the day it comes down to who's going to be the most successful out there and how many spaces are on the team.

"It wasn't something that I was sure was going to happen, in fact it seemed quite out of reach so it was a nice surprise and a confidence boost that I am on the right path.

"It's definitely a development experience as opposed to looking to come home with medals. It's going to be an opportunity to enjoy being in an international championship and just testing myself under those pressures. More than anything I hope to enjoy it."

Without setting any specific goals in terms of the Paralympics, Melanie is hopeful her wheelchair racing performances can continue to develop – and would love her example in overcoming adversity to serve as an example to others.

"I definitely want to see what the best me can look like so it's just a case of continuing to work hard and figuring out where that will take me,” she said.

"I was a PE teacher so encouraging people to find a sporting activity that they enjoy was in my nature.

"Now, looking at it from a disability view I'd love to think that sport is for everyone and can encourage as many people as possible, specifically those with disabilities, to find something that they enjoy and a way of being active.

"That doesn't necessarily mean the Paralympics. People with disabilities want to be fit and active and enjoy just like everyone else.

"But there's also the other side. I saw a real opportunity to enter para sport and see how far I could get with it.

"I looked at others who had been in a similar situation and used it as an opportunity to find success and find something they may have not been able to do pre-injury.

"I would love to encourage other people to do the same if that was what they wanted and encourage them to find something as exciting as this is for me."