A 16-year-old disabled teenager, from Conwy in North Wales, could be set to join the impressive list of Welsh sporting legends thanks to his innate ability, and the support of a children’s charity.
Clayton White, a rising star in the world of wheelchair basketball, is hoping that he can add his name to the pantheon of Welsh sporting greats having set his sights on a professional career in the sport.
For a country with a population of just over 3 million Wales has produced an inordinate number of sporting heroes and heroines. John Charles, Barry John, Colin Jackson, Tanni Grey – Thompson, Nicole Cooke, Jade Jones… the list goes on!
But Clayton’s progress in the game, having been selected for the Team GB Juniors Squad, and his hopes of joining the legendary list of luminaries, was seriously at risk recently when his club coaches realised that he was seriously disadvantaged by the suitability of his wheelchair. In order for him to progress in the game they advised him that he needed a better level Elite chair.
Thankfully, Caudwell Children, the national charity that provides practical and emotional support to disabled children and their families, has ensured that he still has the chance of fulfilling his dreams thanks to the provision of a new specialist sports wheelchair, through their Enable Sport programme.
The initiative gives disabled children and young people the opportunity to reach their potential, in sport, by providing specialised disability sports equipment.
The chair, which cost £3,674, will help Clayton immeasurably. It will reduce the levels of pain he feels whilst playing, enable him to pass and shoot more accurately, allow him to go faster and help him compete against higher level players more effectively.
His mum, Stephanie, believes that the new chair has been instrumental in Clayton’s continued positive outlook on life. She said; “Wheelchair basketball means the world to Clayton and it’s really helped him to come to terms with his condition. Although he has always had Pes Cavus, a deformity of the foot, and muscle problems, he simply got on with his life, often in pain, as he was determined to play rugby and join the airforce.
“However, he was diagnosed with Distal Hereditary Motor Neuronopothy, three years ago. Until then he hadn’t needed a wheelchair and he had managed to excel at Rugby Union, playing competitively between the ages of 5 – 14.
“He’d joined the air cadets to help him in his ambition of becoming a piolet with the RAF, and he was even selected for the Air Cadets North Wales under 16’s Rugby team.”
However, having been diagnosed with the condition, a progressive disorder that affects the motor nerve roots in the spinal cord, causing muscle wastage and weakness and the loss of movement in the hands, feet and legs, Clayton began to experience even more pain. At the age of 15 his condition had progressed to such an extent that he required 12 operations on his left foot as he underwent a full foot reconstruction.
As a result of the degenerative spinal disease he became a full-time wheelchair user and was unable to play rugby.
Although it is not known how the condition will affect him in the future, things have since changed for the better for Clayton! Having been introduced to wheelchair basketball he immediately took to the sport. Not a game for the faint hearted he liked the full contact nature of the game. Ferociously demanding, the levels of skill and aggression required remind him of his beloved rugby, which he still enjoys watching today.
Clayton’s remarkable progress in his new sport has amazed Stephanie. She said: “He initially began training with Conwy Thunders, but as they don’t have league status he’s now moved to Rhyl Raptors, who play in the Second Division of the National League. This is a high standard and the team travels around the country to play.
“Luckily my father takes him to games and their clocking up the miles travelling to Nottingham, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the like. But he loves it and he’s excelling at the sport, so much so that he’s even been selected for the Wales under 19 and 23 teams, he’s had trials with the GB under 22’s and the Team GB Juniors Squad.
“He’s won two silver medals with the Welsh under 23’s and received the Conwy Sports Special Achievement Award in 2013, and he’s up for the Conwy Sports Award for Junior Sportsman of the Year in 2014.
“It’s remarkable that given his dedication to the sport, and the travelling and training that it entails, he’s also been able to continue with a successful academic career, having gained straight A’s, A*and B in his GCSE’s.”
Some achievement given that he also drives the 176 mile round trip from his home to Oldham, in Lancashire, every other week to train with the Team GB Juniors Squad.
Mike Hayes, Head Coach at Rhyl Raptors, is delighted by Clayton’s rapid rise in the game. As he explained: “Clayton has huge potential! He’s managed to bring the same attributes that identified him as a potential Rugby Union professional into his basketball. He has all the physical requirements needed to make it in the game so hopefully, condition allowing, he will go from strength to strength.”
Clayton, who also has Autistic Spectrum Disorder, is determined to complete his schooling before making the transition, he hopes, to professional wheelchair basketball. As he explained: “Every spare moment I have, between playing and training, is taken up with my studies for A Level Biology, History and Archaeology. Whilst I’m going to ensure that I have the qualifications to get into University my ambition is to make it into the full Team GB Squad and have a professional career.
“Many people are unaware that many of the full GB squad are professionals. Prior to the 2012 Paralympics some of the players earned around £23,000 through National Lottery funding, whilst five of the squad played professionally in continental leagues in Germany, Spain and Italy. Here the top players can earn £60,000, for a seven-month season, whilst the best in the world can pick up as much as £100,000.
“I’m really grateful to Caudwell Children, and I can’t thank them enough, as without their help I may have had to give up the sport. With their support I may be able to ‘live the dream’ and make it as a professional sportsman.”
Given Clayton’s dedication, determination, commitment and desire to succeed, someone needs to forewarn Gareth Bale that his time as the Golden Boy of Welsh sport may soon be over!
To find out how Caudwell Children’s Enable Sport programme can secure funding for specialist sports equipment visit: www.caudwellchildren.com