By Oli Dickson Jefford
Josh Waddell never had Paralympic ambitions when he first took to the wheelchair fencing piste – but a place in Paris is now firmly in his sights.
The 19-year-old from Sunderland has demonstrated his potential by becoming world champion at U17 level, and despite still being in his teens has already soared as high as third in the U23 world rankings.
Waddell, who has cerebral palsy, has fenced for over a decade and while it was about enjoyment to begin with, over time lofty ambitions grew.
“I went to a disability sports event and my current coach was there,” said Waddell, who benefits from financial support from Boost Drinks – a company born over 20 years ago with a vision of energising everybody in every way and is committed to supporting its local communities, whether this be fuelling them with its range of Sports, Energy, Iced Coffee, and Protein Drinks, or by getting more involved to help them achieve their goal.
“Thirteen years ago he thought I had talent, so he made contact with me and put me in touch with him and other coaches. I’ve been with him ever since.
“I started off as a seven-year-old thinking that swords were quite cool to play with, kept with it and I’m at the stage I am now.
“There was always something about fencing that drew me in and kept me in it. As I got older, I achieved some small successes, then came the bigger picture.
"There were thoughts about whether I could go somewhere with this - could I potentially go to the Paralympics?
“Those questions got brought up when I was young - and now I’m just trying to push to get to my goals.”
SportsAid supports over 1,000 athletes each year – in the early stages of their career – by providing them with a financial award to help towards training and competition costs.
These athletes are Great Britain's brightest sporting prospects, nominated to SportsAid by the national governing bodies of more than 60 sports based on set criteria from each.
Recent competitions have proven encouraging for Waddell, who is now regularly reaching the last 16 at senior wheelchair fencing ranking events.
And with qualification competitions for Paris getting underway shortly, he is ready to seize the opportunity.
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He added: “Going ahead, I want to progress day by day, week by week, and just push for the qualification for Paris.
“Qualification starts next month, so it’s going to be an 18-month period of tough training and a lot of travel.
“It is a dream, and would be fantastic, to go to the Paralympics - once I’m there, trying to execute my skills at the Games would be a great honour and a great challenge.
“I’m aware at the Games that I would be a relatively young 21-year-old at the time, but just to have the opportunity to go there would be amazing.”
Boost Drinks provides young athletes with financial support, recognition, and personal development opportunities through its partnership with SportsAid. Each athlete receives a £1,000 award which contributes towards costs such as travel, accommodation, and equipment – for more information visit www.boostdrinks.com