Scottish athlete told he is ‘not disabled enough for Paralympics’

A TEENAGER who overcame a severe spinal condition to break two British disabled records for swimming has been told his condition does not qualify him to take part in the Paralympics.

Jason Ridgley, 18, from Thurso in Caithness had his back broken in eight places and then repaired after he was diagnosed with Scheuermann’s disease, a skeletal disorder which causes the spine to grow rounded and uneven.

A keen swimmer, Jason completed nine months of rehabilitation before returning to the pool in the summer of 2010.

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He received his disability classification from British Swimming last August and began working towards inclusion in the British Paralympics team. In the past eight months he has broken the British disabled record for both the 50 metres and 200 metres backstroke.

However, Jason has now learned that his disability is not enough to allow him to participate as a paralympian.

“I was really upset and annoyed. I am really gutted,” he said yesterday. “I went down to Sheffield by train on Thursday, and it took 12 hours. Then it went downhill from there.”

Jason underwent a three-hour examination by a clinician and a technical assessor from the International Paralympic Committee. He said: “I did all the exercises, but I was not given sufficient points for the class I was going to be in. I was reviewed twice, but it was the same result.

“It was a similar examination to the assessment carried out by British Swimming, but the Paralympic points system is obviously a lot stricter, because the condition hasn’t improved since that assessment.”

Jason began swimming at the age of five, but began to develop symptoms of his condition at 13. “I got worse and worse, and it came to the stage where I could not walk to school. I couldn’t breathe properly. I would get home exhausted,” he said.

“It was really upsetting and I was quite lonely. I was too embarrassed to go outside and would hardly speak to anyone. It was a very lonely time.”

Jason, an engineering systems student at the North Highland College of the UHI, and his parents, Anthony, 49, and Jacqueline, 47, feared he would never walk again.

But, in 2009, he was offered the chance to undergo a major operation, lasting several hours, which involved his back being broken in eight places. His vertebrae were then fused and two rods were fixed to his spine.

He said: “The operation made everything a lot better. I can now go out with my friends and enjoy a social life again.”

As soon as he could, he went back to swimming, resuming a tough training regime. He dreamed of representing Britain at London 2012, and Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

A spokesman for the International Paralympics Committee sypathised with Jason’s case, but said: “Swimmers are not classified on disability, but on their ability to swim.

“It seems he has very good ability and would not meet the classification required for a disabled swimmer. It appears that his impairments do not affect his swimming ability.”

Despite the setback, Jason said: “I will carry on swimming and continue to compete, be it disabled competitions or in able-bodied competitions.”