Paris 2024: Kayleigh Haggo reveals childhood struggles and switch from frame running to boccia

After feeling isolated during school, Haggo is thriving as she aims to medal at Paralympics
Kayleigh Haggo now competes in boccia but had a spell as a frame runner.Kayleigh Haggo now competes in boccia but had a spell as a frame runner.
Kayleigh Haggo now competes in boccia but had a spell as a frame runner.

Aspiring Paralympian Kayleigh Haggo knows she has finally found her place after a childhood of being isolated from mainstream sport.

The 25-year-old from Ayr is attempting to reach this summer's Paris Games in boccia, a standalone para-sport where athletes throw, kick or use a ramp to propel a ball as close to the ‘jack’ as possible. Prior to taking up boccia just two years ago, Haggo excelled in frame running and swimming but as a teenager her access to sport came outside of school.

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“Throughout my school physical education journey, I wasn't really included within PE,” Haggo said. “I went to a mainstream school and at that time, my PE teachers weren’t really sure how to include me within most of the sessions that they ran, so when it came to school PE, I wasn't really involved in much at all.

Haggo of Great Britain in action during the Women's 100m RR3 Final at the European Para Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz.Haggo of Great Britain in action during the Women's 100m RR3 Final at the European Para Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz.
Haggo of Great Britain in action during the Women's 100m RR3 Final at the European Para Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz.

“The only time I really did sport within school time was when the school took me to a local parasport festival in Ayrshire and Scottish Disability Sport held one as well. I went to that once a year, and that was basically the only time I was able to try different sports. I was meeting new people and I was able to meet people with the same disability as me, cerebral palsy, and they were also a similar age as me which was nice.”

Haggo was introduced to frame running at the age of 12 and used to travel to Glasgow once a week to train. Within a year, she competed internationally, winning four golds at a competition in Dubai, also setting four new world records. Frame running, which was previously known as race running, sees athletes use a three-wheeled frame which supports them through a saddle and chest plate. But while she excelled on the track, in the sports hall at school, she often felt left out of sports lessons.

She added: “I definitely did find it isolating in the first couple of years, I was walking at that point and I wasn't really using a wheelchair in school in my first year and then in my second year I used a wheelchair a bit more. At that age, I was accepting of the fact I wasn't able to walk that much due to the school being so big and I was just getting really tired all the time. So when it came to PE lessons, I was already tired anyway, so to me, it wasn’t a massive deal because I was already exhausted.

“But I would have really liked to have been included within it if I could. Now I tutor for Scottish Disability Sport as a Disability Inclusion Trainer and go into schools and colleges and teach a course to PE teachers etc, so that doesn’t happen to anyone else. I am really passionate about making sure all young people get access to PE in schools.”

Haggo will hope to medal in boccia.Haggo will hope to medal in boccia.
Haggo will hope to medal in boccia.

Haggo studied Coaching and Developing Sport at Ayrshire College before working for Scottish Disability Sport prior to becoming a full-time boccia athlete. The connections she made at university have helped her ensure that change is happening, including at her old school. “I haven’t been back to my old school,” she said. “But I know a few of the teachers because I went to university to study sports coaching and a couple of people on my course now work in the school I used to go to. It is nice to know some of the teachers and it means that through university, they adapted sessions for me really well. So, it is really good to know that if they’ve got someone in their class with a disability and they are going to understand a lot better how to include them in the sessions.”

During much of Haggo’s teenage years, frame running was not part of World Athletics’ para-athletics programme, which prompted a switch to swimming where she reached national level. In 2018, she returned to frame running and became world champion a year later in the women’s 100m RR3. Haggo dreamed of going to a Paralympic Games with frame running but her hopes were dashed when the discipline was not included in the athletics programme for Paris 2024. Not wanting to wait a whole cycle for another chance, Haggo switched to boccia, a sport she had first tried at the parasport festivals of her childhood. The BC2 athlete became full-time last year and now regularly competes alongside Britain’s World No.1s David Smith and Claire Taggart. Within a year of taking up the sport, she became one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme that allows her to train full-time.

“I couldn’t do it without The National Lottery’s support,” she said. “I have been able to give up my job in the last year. I absolutely loved my job, but when I came onto the World Class programme, it really enabled me to focus purely on boccia and my training is so consistent now. Being a full-time athlete is something I have never had, it is something I have always wanted and dreamed about but now I have got that support behind me, I am able to do that, and I am able to give my all to my sport which is what I want to do.”

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