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People profile: Kylie Grimes

GB Wheelchair Rugby player and motivational speaker

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 3
Kylie Grimes is the only woman on the GB Wheelchair Rugby team
Kylie Grimes is the only woman on the GB Wheelchair Rugby team

I love being the only woman on the squad – I get a room to myself on tour!” says Kylie Grimes of her recent selection into the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby squad for the 2019 European Championships.

“Joking aside, I’m honoured to represent my country. I’m thrilled to rejoin the team,” she says.

Grimes, 31, was part of the London 2012 Wheelchair Rugby team before turning to athletics in 2014. She enjoyed success, finishing fourth in the 2015 and 2017 World Championships and the Rio 2016 Olympics. However, her heart really lay in team sport and she decided to switch back to training for wheelchair rugby. With the help of the team at specialist spinal cord injury active rehabilitation centre Neurokinex, Grimes regained her form and retook her place on the GB Wheelchair Rugby team. She is the only female player on the squad but that doesn’t faze her: she knows she’s been selected for her ability and has earned her place.

“Wheelchair Rugby is a mixed sport but it’s heavily male-dominated with no stipulation for any females on the team: you really have to earn your place. As the bottom classification of ability, I have less-good function in my hands and arms. But I’m strong in defence, freeing the faster-paced boys to play in attack, where they must handle the ball well and pass it quickly and hard.

“I was the second female to ever play for Team GB (Josie Pearson was the first in 2008), joining the squad in 2011. Returning to form to regain my place in 2019 has been hard but worth it.”

Tough training
Grimes continues: “Wheelchair Rugby is more aerobic than athletics and demands endurance so you can push on for long periods of time. I had to rethink my training programme at Neurokinex, switching to more reps of lower weights, bench presses and seated rows. For endurance and stamina, I push myself on the Sci-Fit hand bike.

“The final piece of the jigsaw is my core strength, which is essential to give stability through my spine. I need that to stop myself from falling all over the place, especially on impact in the game and when changing direction at speed.”

Team success
The GB Wheelchair Rugby team has had some major victories since Grimes rejoined the squad. In May they won the Four Nations tournament in the US, beating Australia, USA and Japan to the title. Ranked behind the other three countries, they entered as underdogs but came out on top.

That success pulled them up to fourth in the world before they competed in the 2019 European Championships in Denmark in August, where they successfully defended their title. Next is the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge, which will be played alongside the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo in October with the top eight teams (Australia, USA, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and France) battling it out. After this, the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games beckon.

Building opportunities
“London 2012 was a game changer for many disability sports and wheelchair rugby quickly saw three leagues develop, where before London there was only one,” she says. “It’s great to see opportunities for the competitive sport grow but the grassroots side of the game really needs help. This is where friends are found as well as fitness and where supportive communities are created.

“Sadly, few sports centres fully accommodate disability sports. Being ‘accessible’ isn’t enough: sports centres must provide a range of disability sports for youngsters and adults.

“I often hear stories of people – including families with young disabled children – having to travel over an hour to find a suitable facility. Disability sport is literally a lifeline for many people: for some it’s the only thing that gets them out of the house, especially when newly injured. If the leisure industry creates more opportunities within accessible sport, it will build and build.”

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