Leeds youngster dares to dream of the Paralympics

Lawrence Nicholas is put through his paces by personal trainer Martin Shaw.
Lawrence Nicholas is put through his paces by personal trainer Martin Shaw.
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Thanks to a new fitness regime cerebral palsy sufferer Lawrence Nicholas is dreaming of becoming a Paralympian. Lee Sobot reports.

Upon having his first session with Leeds fitness trainer Martin Shaw, Garforth cerebral palsy sufferer Lawrence Nicholas couldn’t stand up properly or walk.

A year and a half later the teenager has literally found his feet in life and is cycling down Swillington canal.

The road ahead remains a tricky one, but the youngster’s seemingly unlikely ambition of becoming a Paralympian is perhaps not so fanciful after all.

Nicholas, 18, was born with cerebral palsy and has had to battle with a weakness down the right hand side of his body that was getting worse over time.

An operation in June 2012 was successful in straightening his crooked right leg out, but at a cost of a badly stretched nerve as a side effect.

Unable to stand or walk after the operation and confined to a wheelchair, the Brigshaw High School pupil and formerly keen swimmer and cyclist was back to square one. But a second nerve graft operation in 2013 heralded a recovery that has been staggeringly taken to new levels by Leeds fitness coach and personal trainer Shaw at Thorpe Park Hotel.

Shaw, 36, took his fitness instructor operation to the Colton hotel at the beginning of 2012 and has dealt with countless clients of all abilities, shapes and sizes since.

But his first conversation with a then wheelchair-bound 16-year-old Nicholas stands out by some margin.

“When he came to me I said ‘what’s your aims then’ and I told him to think big,” revealed Shaw.

“He said ‘I want to be a captain of a Parlaympic swimming team’ but he can’t go in the water at the moment because his foot is so sensitive.”

Yet after the teenager’s last 18 months’ progress with Shaw, nothing should surprise.

The former East Garforth Primary school pupil is going from strength to strength and his Commonwealth dreams could be back on track.

“I love sport and I’d love to do something like the Commonwealth Games,” Nicholas told the YEP.

“Before the operation I would have either said swimming or in the Paralympics they actually also have tricycle racing.

“And I do actually have a tricycle so I would say either swimming or biking.

“Swimming is my first sporting love but I have issues getting in the water with my foot being so sensitive though it’s better than it was and I think it will continue to improve.

“A bit like the walking, it’s a case of the more I do it the easier it’s got. It’s a similar process.”

It begs the question as to just what tricks Shaw had up his sleeve in order to take a teenager who could not stand up, to daring to dream of the Paralympic Games 18 months later.

But Garforth-born Nicholas says simplicity – and confidence – has been key.

“It’s been a few different things really,” Nicholas revealed.

“One of the main things is that it has made me stronger in working on apparatus in the gym but I guess the other really important thing is that at first Martin was helping me to get on and off equipment and he had to support me and work out how to get things to work.

“But now I am becoming more independent.

“Martin is supporting me to get onto machines myself and get me thinking ‘how am I going to get on that?’

“Even the little things like if I am going on a weight machine, it’s ‘where am I going to put my feet’ and ‘where do I need to position myself? – that kind of thought process of things I need to do.

“Even in the future – I don’t know exactly where I’m going to end up with the condition and if there are still things I am going to struggle with I need to be thinking, ‘how am I going to be able to get this out of the cupboard’ or ‘how am I going to get to things?’

“And as well as the strength and independence side of it, there’s also been my self esteem and the trusting element.

“It’s making me feel more like my old self again.

“Although it’s obvious that I am not the same person I was before in terms of the things I could do physically, I am still doing more active things and more normal things. I am not feeling as restricted by it now.”

The restrictions that Nicholas was experiencing in light of his first operation are summed up the fact that his two-year AS and A-level course had to be extended to a third year considering the difficulties he had getting in and out of school.

Mum Linda is married to the teenager’s former licensing manager dad Julian and had to quit her job as a high level teaching assistant in order to look after her son but the teenager is now back fulfilling his studies, hoping to leave Brigshaw with three A-levels. The youngster certainly gets an A-star for ambition and who’s to say that Nicholas cannot be Garforth’s answer to Leeds’ triple Paralympic cyclist gold medallist David Stone.

“I would love to do something like that,” said Nicholas, who has a older 25-year-old brother, Gregory, and 28-year-old sister, Elizabeth, who live in London and Congleton respectively. Like their younger brother, both are musical with Nicholas also a keen singer and wannabe writer though his first love is clear.

The Paralympics hopeful admitted: “I’ve always loved sport and I do actually quite like the whole thing with training and getting stronger.

“I like trying to improve and getting better as well as just enjoying it so I’d love to do something like that.

“I know in terms of cycling at the Paralympics they have either hand bikes or the trikes which I have seen as I remember seeing it all at the London Olympics – at Brands Hatch I think it was.”

For now, Nicholas is instead making do with Swillington Canal, but something has been holding him back over the last few months and it’s not his disability.

Instead, a delay to progress on the Paralympics trail has been seasonal.

Nicholas revealed: “I have actually been out on my tricycle and the last time must have been before all the cold weather I think.

“There’s the canal in Swillington and we have actually been up and down the canal.

“It was quite a short ride but we got to the point where we were aiming to go further. I don’t know exactly how far but I was going further before all the cold weather came in! But I’ll take that – if it means the weather is holding me back more than anything else!”