Richard Sargent was just nine years old when he broke his back in a head-on traffic collision. He still remembers the date, 6th August 2001, and the two weeks he spent in a coma. Young Richard, who was left paralysed below the waist, showed undeniable optimism, determined to "man up" for the sake of his grieving family. Now 19, Richard recalls: "I couldn't walk - so what? I wasn't meant to survive, so having been given a new shot at life I was determined to embrace the new challenge."
Whilst still recovering, Richard began playing wheelchair basketball. At first he thought it was fun to test his wheelchair and be allowed to bump into things. But he was to spend his last four months in hospital training alongside the Sheffield Steelers, the country's premier wheelchair basketball team, and within a year he was competing in the national league. Richard says: "My teammates acted as a family of support around me. Their positive outlook and encouragement taught me how to adapt to my disability and turn a negative into a positive.
"The best thing about wheelchair basketball is the rule allowing able-bodied participants", he adds. His brother trained alongside him during the first two years following the accident. "When your cards are down you know who your friends are," he says. "The support of my family and friends was the pinnacle of importance."
With optimum motivation, Richard aims to become "the greatest 2.5 player in the world". Wheelchair basketball players are classified according to their degree of disability: a non-disabled player is a 5 and players with the most severe disabilities are classified as a 1. He is currently a junior player for ParalympicsGB, Great Britain's Paralympic team and hopes to compete in the Rio 2016 Games.
Despite the bright future that lies ahead of Richard, a challenging aspect in everyday life remains the way some people react to disabilities. He explains: "For instance, when you go to a shop with another team-mate who is in a wheelchair, everyone looks at you as if you are on a special day out." The build-up towards the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the increasing media coverage bring expectations of change. Richard says: "People finally understand the fact that those with a disability can still live their lives." Now when people on the street see Richard in a wheelchair, they ask "so do you play sport?" ALICE CONROY, 17 years