'˜For the first time in 40 years I knew the sensation of running' says Paralympic hopeful who had leg amputated as a baby

Stuart Meikle was just six months old when his right leg was amputated. Now his sights are set on 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Catherine Scott reports.

It was while taking his children to an athletics club that father of three Stuart Meikle got the idea that he may be he too could become a competitive athlete.

Stuart’s right leg was amputated through the knee when he was six months old after a rare condition meant one leg grew longer than the other.

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“It was either case of amputation or have a block on one of my shoes. My parents chose amputation, which is what most people opt for these days.”

Although he never let his disability hold him back, the keen mountain-biker and amateur sportsman had always thought that competitive running was beyond him.

“In the early years artificial limbs were very basic with no joints, but despite this I was walking before I was one year old and quickly learnt to ride my bike,” explains Stuart, a painter and decorator from Bingley.

“I participated in sports at both junior and senior school including rugby and football and did not let my disability hinder me. Obviously there were some restrictions but I took up mountain-biking as a sport, but due to basic nature of artificial leg design was not able to run competitively.

“I was a constant face at Seacroft Hospital in Leeds because as I grew I needed a new prosthetic; also every time I tried a new sport they were amazing and tried to adapt my leg to the sport I wanted to try.”

But it was when Stuart took his children to Keighley and Craven Athletics Club training sessions at University Academy Keighley that he felt so inspired that he decided to look into getting a running blade that would enable him to compete.

“I went along to support the children and would walk around the track while they were training,” he says. “I began to think that maybe with the right prosthetic leg, I could do this. I’d continued with my mountain-biking so was still in pretty good condition.”

He was further inspired when he supported his family at the Great North Run.

“I got to see incredible athletes like Mo Farah, but I was most inspired by the runners at the back – the ones that were struggling but through the support of those around them still managed to complete the race.

“You could not help but be inspired so much so that I decided I wanted to enter this and other races in the future.”

Stuart visited Seacroft Hospital yet again and after explaining his ambitions, he was supplied with the latest Steeper-blade running leg.

“The blade took a bit of getting used to but I soon realised that it was a life-changer,” recalls Stuart.

“It enabled me to enter a few 10K races, the first one in July 2017, and very quickly my times were improving significantly.

“It’s unbelievable using the blade,” says Stuart. “For the first time in more than 40 years I knew the sensation of running – it’s amazing.

“I knew it would change my life, but quite how much I didn’t realise.”

It was the Leeds-based Steeper prosthetist who knew Stuart was a keen mountain-biker suggested he try triathlon.

“He offered to make me a new cycling leg with a revolutionary Kinergen Stream Knee which is a special joint to make cycling easier and on trying this out I decided to try to compete in the triathlon. I was a strong cyclist and a good runner but I had to work on my swimming.”

Quite quickly it became clear that Stuart had a talent for the sport and soon after he started training was invited to a British Paratriathlon trial in Loughborough.

He was subsequently accepted onto the talent squad to compete for a place at Tokyo 2020.

Stuart attended a camp this month where he worked with the Paralympic talent development team to devise a programme.

“I’m absolutely astounded that I could have got this far so quickly,” he said.

“I am delighted to have been accepted onto the talent squad, but there is a lot of hard work and training ahead.”

It means spending two days a week at Loughborough and a lot of time training, but it seems to be paying off.

In his first competitive paraduathlon (the triathlon season has not yet started) last week in Bedford, Stuart came away with the gold in his category.

“To come away with gold and the British champion title in my category at my first race was fantastic – I’m delighted,” he said.

“It’s a great start as I prepare for the triathlons, which begin in May.”

But in order to compete at the top level of triathlon, Stuart needs to train full time.

“At the moment I have to fit training in around working as I still need to feed my kids, but all the top paratriathletes train full time so I am hoping to get some sponsors to enable me to do that.”

He has launched a GoFundMe online campaign in a bid to raise £20,000 and is appealing to the public and business community for sponsorship. “I am looking at focusing on training full time to give me the best possible chance of achieving my goal,” he said. “I would be extremely grateful for any support people feel able to offer.”

Stuart says the support he has received from British Triathlon and Keighley and Craven Athletics Club, where he is coached in his running, has been “unbelievable”.

And he pays special tribute to his family – he is married to Sarah, who is also a keen runner, and they have children Ellie, 14, Luke, 11, and Finley, four.

“My family has been my inspiration throughout and I’m just so thankful for its support in helping me realise my dream at 42.”

Stuart can be contacted via stuartmeikle.com or by twitter: @StuMeikletri, and donations can be made at gofundme.com/stuart-meikle-tokyo-2020.