ParalympicsGB wheelchair rugby

Copyright onEdition 2016 © Ryan Cowling, ParalympicsGB Wheelchair rugby

By Barney Cullum

When people think of the Paralympic Games, most think primarily of David Weir and Ellie Simmonds. Rio 2016 will see new stars illuminate the stage though. With anticipation growing, Barney Cullum highlights a few to look out for.

Kadeena Cox – athletics and cycling: A newcomer to the scene since the London Games, Kadeena looks set to be the breakthrough British star in Brazil.

The Leeds-based athlete lives with multiple sclerosis, a condition synonymous with fatigue. Yet despite this, Kadeena is targeting a place in history by becoming the first Paralympian since 1988 to medal in two different events.

“I believe in pushing the boundaries in everything I do,” she says. A gold in the cycling and a medal of any colour on the athletics track would be an achievement to match anything we can expect to witness in Rio. A world record holder in both events, she has every chance.

Ryan Cowling – wheelchair rugby: “I fully expect to be the oldest debutant in Rio,” the 40-year-old Welshman readily admits. A wheelchair user for 22-years since an accident in the army, Ryan came to professional sport late after an interesting career teaching other wheelchair users how to scuba dive in Egypt.

“Scuba diving was great, but having a family makes you reflect on what you can be doing, and what you should be doing.” Ryan was avidly involved in sport at school but then left it behind for two decades. Since linking up with the Paralympics GB ‘murderball’ team last year the British squad have lifted a global title in a test event for Rio. They are among the favourites for the real thing.

Kare Adenegan – wheelchair racing: Kare is not only the youngest member of Paralympics GB’s athletics team, she’s yet to take her GCSEs. Kare’s claim to fame lies in becoming the first person to ever defeat Hannah Cockroft in a professional race – an unbeaten record she held for some seven years.

“At school I was told I couldn’t do sport for health and safety reasons,” Kare says. “I lost a lot of confidence and self-esteem as I felt it wasn’t for me but then I watched Hannah at the London Games.

Kare hopes Rio 2016 will have a similar impact on changing perceptions of what disabled people can do. “It can show teachers and children that there are opportunities out there and that sport is for everyone.”

Richard Whitehead – athletics

One to watch – for a different reason than the rest of the cast. Not a new name, but at 40-years-old this may be the last chance to tune in and watch arguably the greatest Paralympian these shores have produced on the biggest stage.

The first amputee to break the 3 hour mark in the marathon, Richard recently broke the 200m world record – his event for Rio – at London’s Anniversary Games. “I do what I do because I love it,” he insists. But propelling yourself at great speed using power from your hips and upper body alone cannot be without sacrifice.

The breadth of his achievements mean he deserves a level of recognition to match that afforded the likes of Mo Farrah and Jess Ennis. Maybe this year it will come.

And internationally…

Jarryd Wallace (USA) athletics: The T44 (single amputee) men’s 100 metres is expected to be the most exciting and competitive event of Rio 2016.

Jonnie Peacock secured gold in 2012, swept to victory by a fervent home crowd on “Thriller Thursday”. However, American Jarryd Wallace came out on top at the recent London Anniversary Games.

Should Wallace scoop the blue riband event, the 26-year-old become one of the faces of the Games. US state broadcaster NBC only screened six hours of coverage in 2012, but have pledged 70 hours out of Brazil this time around. Wallace’s showdown with reigning champion Peacock – not to mention Brazil’s Alan Oliveia – will top their bill.