IT MAY be a cliché to describe a sportswoman who has excelled against the odds as being in a league of their own - but in Sianagh Gallagher’s case, it’s true.
Sianagh, 17, is the only European paraclimber with one arm, and this September, she will represent her country for the first time at the paraclimbing world championships in Gijon, Spain.
As well as sporting accolades, the York teenager has also won awards for the inspirational outlook she has in life, and was chosen to carry the paralympic lantern through York in 2012.
Last year, she won the Yorkshire Children of Courage sporting achievement award, and is backing this year’s awards, which will take place at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in October.
The awards, now in their fourth year, were set up by the St James’s Place Foundation, the charitable arm of the St James’s Place wealth management company, to honour courageous youngsters while raising money to help disadvantaged and disabled young people.
Sianagh said: “I genuinely do feel shocked as I am always up against so many inspirational people. For me, climbing is something that I love, to get an award or be recognised because of it is a shock, I’m nothing special.”
But despite her humble outlook, Sianagh’s story is an inspirational one. Born ten weeks early with a string of complications, doctors told her mother to prepare for the worst. She was born with just one arm, no collarbone, a curved spine, twisted pelvis, dislocated knee and both feet facing the wrong way.
But weekly doctors’ visits and six major operations on her leg and pelvis meant she was able to walk normally, and soon developed a taste for sport, even breaking her ankle while taking part in her first love, skateboarding.
She was introduced to climbing at primary school, and “loved it straight away.” In 2010 she took part in her first competition and last year made the GB paraclimbing team. Sianagh trains five times a week at Energise Leisure Centre, Acomb, and this weekend will compete alongside the GB paraclimbing team in Austria.
Her unique disability means she’s placed in a category with climbers with different disabilities, and she often competes against people in their 30s with decades of experience.
Traditional rules of climbing mean that you must always have three points of contact with the climbing wall - impossible for Sianagh.
She said: “I’ve had to make up my own techniques. In my first competition I was really nervous, I’d never had so many people watching me before.
“But I’m a lot more calm now. I’ve just come back from France and got a message from one of teammates, who had just been selected for the first time, thanking me for my support.
“I don’t really see the competitive side as I’m friends with a lot of my competitors. I always see it as trying to do my personal best, that’s all you can give.”
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Sianagh studies outdoor adventure sports at Askham Bryan College, and hopes to one day become a climbing coach.
Last month she was at the launch of the Yorkshire Children of Courage awards, where she was reunited with the other winners from last year.
She said: “I feel so inspired by the other kids. They’ve been through such a tough time, developed an illness or lost a limb. I was born like this so it’s all I’ve ever known.”
Scott Campbell, of the St. James’s Place Foundation Committee said: “Sianagh is a truly inspirational young lady and typifies the character and endeavour of many of our past award winners. She has gone on to achieve so much with her selection to the British paraclimbing team. We are sure that the recognition she received from awards has helped her in her desire to push herself further on a personal level and to go on achieving.”
The Yorkshire Post is the media partner for the Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards, which will be hosted by BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in October.
Nominations in categories including young carer, outstanding bravery, and sporting achievement, which Sianagh won, are now open. There are two age groups for each category, 0-12 and 13-18.
To nominate a child or to buy tickets for the event, which is sponsored by Arrow Cars, visit www.yorkshirechildren.co.uk
You can also vote in the new group award.