A sprint start to Kelly’s Invictus adventure

3 September 2018 11:00

Our inspirational blind veteran Kelly will be representing the UK at this year’s Invictus Games. Hear how the journey started in this first of a series of updates following her on the road to Sydney.

Kelly Ganfield at the Invictus Games
Kelly posing with her Invictus tracksuit behind.

After her successful tournament in Canada last year, our Chief Executive Nick once more set Kelly the challenge of being selected to represent the UK at the Invictus Games. Kelly’s tenacity and long hours in the gym paid off and she is now Team UK’s only vision impaired competitor heading Down Under in October.

"I didn’t expect to get selected this year, having competed in 2017. 1,500 applied, and 450 people went through to the trials. Only 26 of us who were at the Games last year have made it into the final 72 places. I am proud and amazed to be one of them!"

Kelly served in the Army, but, after having two strokes aged only 23, her world turned upside down. She lost the large majority of her eyesight, developed epilepsy, and suffered a brain injury. She was medically discharged from the Army in 2005.

Not one to let sight loss hold her back, Kelly has continued to pursue her love of sports and fitness. However, as a former marathon runner, the Invictus Games has led her to take on a new discipline in sprinting.

She’ll be participating in both the 100m and 200m sprints in the Female Category, which means she will be running against other ex-Service women with sight but who have endured other traumas. Supported by Blind Veterans UK to meet this challenge, Kelly also has help from expert guide runner, Mikail.

Kelly Ganfield on rowing machine
Kelly training rowing at the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto.

Mikail’s experience is second-to-none. He has coached a number of athletes who have attained high honours at various international competitions. A training partner with Richard Whitehead (T42 double Paralympic champion), Mikail was also Libby Clegg’s guide runner between 2011 and 2015, which included guide running with Libby as she achieved her silver medal in the T12 100m at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

No stranger to the Invictus Games, Mikail was an athletics coach in 2017. Kelly had no guide, and so Mikail offered to be her runner. He concentrates his training techniques on rhythm, spatial awareness, plyometrics – exercises which focus on increasing power - and fundamental movement patterns.

Libby Clegg and Mikail Huggins at the Paralympic Games
Libby Clegg and Mikail Huggins with their silver medals at London 2012. photographer Gareth Copley @ Getty Images

Mikail says: “We’ve been training together for a year now. She wasn’t a sprinter when we started, and is having to develop such different techniques to marathon running. One year on, she looks like a sprinter.”

Strokes, the cause of Kelly’s sight loss, have slowed the left side of her body, so she and Mikail have been working on the minutiae of technique. Sometimes, they find that the best way to learn the right technique is through making mistakes.

"When I was a soldier, that’s what it was all about, being perfect. It’s the same when I play football with the guys, or in my training with Mikail, I just want to do things to the best of my ability."

Kelly will be participating in three disciplines later this year: 100m and 200m sprints, indoor rowing, and long jump. We look forward to seeing what’s next for her in this journey!