The Para Vaulter: Preparing for championships

Last time we caught up with Lizzie, she'd just been to vaulting camp. Here she explains how she's been preparing for a series of championships, including a very inventive way of using a sun lounger...

July to October is pretty busy for me as a para vaulter, with plenty of big competitions to aim at, and, therefore, a lot of training to do!

In July we had the RDA National Championships at Hartpury, at the beginning of September, it was the English Vaulting Championships, and finally in October we have the British Vaulting Championships.

Competing at Hartpury (RDA Champs)

Competing at Hartpury (RDA Champs)

Preparation for Hartpury, in vaulting at least, consisted of plenty of work on and off the horse.

On the horse, I had to fine-tune my freestyle and become accustomed to doing it in a helmet without strangling myself or getting my head stuck - neither of these things being particularly graceful.

Because my compulsories were in walk for the competition, I spent a lot of time making them as perfect as possible, which is something I don’t necessarily focus on when doing them in canter and just trying not to fall off! 

There’s still plenty of scope to improve but I think I’m now better at doing them in canter having spent so long in walk thinking about them.

Off the horse, I spent hours working on a costume and editing my music so that I had precisely one minute of narrative from my chosen Disney song (a classic favourite!).

This meant adjusting the tempo, chopping out several parts and sticking the remaining bits together. It’s one of the only times that my music degrees prove useful! 

All the practice was well worth it because I loved competing at Hartpury and once I’d finished just wanted to get back on and do it again - this must surely be the best result. Coming first was the cherry on the cake!

Getting in training 

Preparing for the English was a little different as I was on holiday until a week before, so I could barely fit in any practice on the horse.

Riding on holiday 

Riding on holiday 

There’s plenty of ‘thinking’ work to do (e.g. which of my new freestyle moves to include, and how to weave them with the music) but most of the effort took the form of the ‘C’ word: conditioning. 

Each day I complete a routine of planks, sit ups, press ups and more for around 30 minutes, followed by carefully stretching my injured hamstring and spending minutes at a time in different splits positions.

Me desperately waiting for five mins to count down in plank

Me desperately waiting for five mins to count down in plank

At the moment, my right ankle pops out every time I do any kind of splits, so I’ve rigged up a resistance band attached to furniture and looped round my foot, which helps to hold my foot in traction and, by and large, keeps all the nuts and bolts in place!

I have to push my legs out with my arms so it's an upper body workout too!

I have to push my legs out with my arms so it's an upper body workout too!

Necessity is the mother of (re-)invention so, on holiday, I found an empty beer bottle (750ml!) to use as a roller to massage my bad hamstring, and I also started using a sun lounger as a barrel horse, much to my mum’s horror.

My new barrel horse! 

My new barrel horse! 

Another important part of the picture for my hamstrings was my hot water bottle, and I’m prepared to place bets on me being the only person with a view of the Mediterranean who was sitting on a hot water bottle in August…

Planning for the championships

Now I’m at home I can ease off on this programme a little bit because I’m back to normal training, including riding, gymnastics, wheelchair racing and weights training.

If you ever wanted a way to feel better about your holiday coming to an end, I strongly recommend this system! 

The main challenge in preparing for the British Champs has been that it’s in Scotland, aka a fair trek from Cambridge.

Because of the pressure it puts on my back and, to a lesser extent, my legs, I'm unable to travel a distance like this in a car, so instead I am looking at flights. 

It’s not unmanageable, but air travel with a wheelchair does bring its own challenges.

The first time I flew with my chair, I created a bit of a scene at Gatwick when my suitcase got trapped under my wheelchair and flipped me out backwards in front of the entire EasyJet check-in queue (a few hundred people).

With a big bright red bag of ‘MEDICAL EQUIPMENT’ on my back I was stuck like a little squirming beetle and completely unable to right myself.

Suffice to say that I am keen to avoid a repeat of this incident. Fortunately I’ve now arranged to travel and stay with another family from the club so I’m feeling more confident in my ability to reach Glasgow with my bones intact and in situ!

Now that the admin is sorted, I’m enjoying being back to work on the horse.

The ‘ground work’ (quite literally) is vital to being as strong and flexible as possible, but ultimately you need to put the hours in on the horse.

It’s not glamourous, but the secret to achieving something in competition is to achieve it over and over and over again in training. Repetition can be tedious, but it has a good, proven track record. 

Speaking of which, it’s time for some more press ups, I suppose…