She joined Hannah Cockroft on her lap of honour after finishing seventh behind Britain’s double gold medallist in the T34 200 metres in London 2012.But four years on, Mel Nicholls believes she has a real chance of causing an upset and beating Cockroft in one of her three events in next month’s Rio Paralympic Games.In London, the T34 track races were sprints – 100 and 200 metres – but in Rio there will be a T34 100 metres, a 400 metres and an 800 metres, a race which gives the mid-distance specialist Nicholls a much better chance of a medal.She told Disability News Service: “I have definitely got a chance.”A silver medal in the 800 metres at last year’s world championships was a “great boost”, she said, coming as it did soon after an injury lay-off.She’s world record-holder at 1,500 metres and loves the tactics of the longer races.Nicholls (pictured) said: “I am much more of a distance racer, I am not a sprinter. It definitely goes in my favour.“[The 800 metres] is still a short middle distance but you have got a good lap of time for some tactics, which I absolutely love. That’s my thing.“I see it as like a game of chess. Once you’re into the rhythm you can kind of see it… I know where people are, I know what I can do, and you just play it out, and that makes it really exciting.“With the 800, it’s almost anybody’s race. There are about five of us who can medal. I definitely want to be in that top five.”London 2012 was her first major competition as a wheelchair athlete, and she took part just four years after the last of three strokes which left her disabled.The build-up to Rio has been completely different to London, when she was “a complete unknown”.She said: “I wasn’t on the radar [at London]. I am now. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but since London I’ve been on the team and it’s my job, so there is a lot of different pressure.“That’s really exciting, but it’s a very different feeling.”Nicholls describes herself as a “perfectionist”, both as a person and as an athlete.She said: “There’s no harder taskmaster than I am on myself. You want to be the best you can be.“Also, I don’t want to let my team down. I’m really part of the team. My coaches, the country, everybody that’s invested in me and the sport, I feel I owe them back.“Always I want to please people; I want to please my coaches, my friends, my family. I work myself the hardest because I don’t want to let anybody down.”She copes with the stress and pressure partly through support from a sports psychologist and mindfulness training, which she said has “probably been my biggest help in my training”.The mindfulness proved crucial at last year’s world championships, she said, when she had only returned to training a month before, after an injury, and was lacking in confidence.She said: “I got a silver medal and it was my mind that got me through that race. Your mind is powerful and you can do a lot with that.”Like many Paralympians, she has had to make sacrifices. She hasn’t seen her mother, who lives in France, since last year.Nicholls said: “I don’t see my friends very much; sometimes they can get quite frustrated about that. I don’t see my family.“They understand that. It’s a short time and a small price to pay, I think. I know that they are there backing me and afterwards it will be worth it.”She is looking forward to the “vibrance and the colour” of Rio – “I am a fan of bright colour, everyone knows me for always being in pink” – and to being part of a team environment again.She said: “That was the main thing I noticed from London. I had never been in a team environment before and it felt like a big family.“The people supporting you back home and the team around us, it was a big family, and everyone was there for the highs and the lows.”She said that putting on the Rio 2016 ParalympicsGB team kit for the first time was “wonderful”.She said: “Putting on the kit is something really special. I can imagine putting on a wedding dress, it’s that kind of experience… I will take this over getting married any day.”She added: “We have this amazing crown design, which I absolutely love. It’s very regal. I love the royal family, I absolutely love the Queen, so I think it’s fantastic. If I could wear a crown to race, I would.”Like many Paralympians, she is hoping to inspire the next generation of athletes, as she was inspired herself by watching the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.She remembers joining Cockroft on her 200 metres lap of honour in London.She said: “It was the children, their faces, and they all wanted to high-five you. You could see the magic in their eyes, and that was really special, and that was disabled children or able-bodied children.“For me, if one person is going to take up sport, that’s such a positive, that’s what I want to do.”Nicholls put her wish to inspire the next generation of Paralympic athletes into action five years ago by starting an academy with her coach, basing it at the Coventry Godiva Harriers athletics club.There is now a core group of at least 10 athletes at every session, three times a week, and another 40 people who drop in and out; some of those who attend the sessions are amateurs and some of them professional athletes.She said: “Some of the children do it because it’s a social thing, they have friends there, but they are getting better and better.“The older guys want to come and get fit because they haven’t had the opportunity before.“So we have Paralympic athletes training with everyone else; everyone just mixes in.“It’s a social thing, it’s a confidence thing, a health thing and a competitive thing as well.”One of those training with her at the academy is 15-year-old Kare Adenegan, who watched Nicholls and Cockroft race four years ago in London and made headlines last September after becoming the first athlete to beat Cockroft in her senior career.Adenegan will be racing alongside and against both Nicholls and Cockroft in Rio.
A MASSIVE Saintly welcome to our sponsors for Friday’s First Utility Super League tie with Hull KR.MATCH SPONSOR – JelfJelf is an award-winning independent insurance broker and financial consultancy. They provide expert advice to both businesses and individuals on matters relating to insurance, healthcare, employee benefits and financial planning.Jelf work with more than 69,000 corporate and commercial clients, covering a wide spectrum from small owner-managed businesses, to SMEs and larger corporates, as well as having more than 45,000 individual clients.You can find out more about Jelf here.MATCH BALL SPONSOR – Kingstone PressKingstone Press are proud to be this week’s Match Ball Sponsors and continue their support for the rugby league.They are in their third year as a major partner of the Rugby Football League (RFL), supporting the development of the game from grass roots to the highest professional levels.Whether as the Official Cider of the national team and First Utility Super League or through their title sponsorship of the Kingstone Press Championships and the NCL their aim is to deliver total cider refreshment to fans and players alike and bring fans closer to the action and clubs they love.They are proud to state that they are Rugby to the Core.You can learn more about Kingstone Press here.MATCH PROGRAMME SPONSOR – Warrington AudiWarrington Audi are again our Match Programme Sponsors and are proud to be a regular sponsor here at Saints.Warrington Audi is part of the Jardine Motor Group, one of the top retail dealership groups in the UK, whose values are built on providing an exceptional customer experience.They can be found at Charon Way, Gemini Retail Park, Westbrook, Warrington, WA5 7YDClick here to find out more.CORPORATE SPONSORS – Ty-phooOur main partner are also this week’s Corporate Sponsors.Typhoo Tea Limited has a long and rich heritage, stretching back to 1903 when Birmingham grocer John Sumner developed and sold a blend of tea in his shop. Now based just over in the Wirral they are proud to have been a major sponsor of the Saints over the past few seasons. And we hope that our successful partnership will continue further in the future!To find out more click here.THIS WEEK’S FEATURED PLAYER SPONSORS – Safer St HelensSafer St Helens is a local community programme set up by local authorities.Known as the community safety partnership (CSP), St Helens CSP is made up of representatives from Merseyside Police, St Helens Council, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Merseyside Probation Trust and Health services (the ‘responsible authorities’).The ‘responsible authorities’ are required to work together to develop and implement strategies to protect our local communities from crime and to help people feel safe. They develop local approaches to deal with issues including anti-social behaviour, drug or alcohol abuse, burglary, vehicle theft, domestic violence and re-offending.In doing so, they work in partnership with a range of other local public, private, community and voluntary groups and with the wider community. The CSP is required to prepare a delivery plan informed by an annual joint strategic assessment and public consultation process.After Sponsoring Paul Wellens for the majority of this season they are now proud to be sponsoring our new young full back Adam Quinlan who is already becoming a fan favourite on the terraces.For more info visit their website here. read more
Isabelle Rudge, Charlotte Hill, Sarah Lovejoy, Carys Marsh, Pip Birchall, Naomi Williams and Jade Ward have joined Emily Rudge, Faye Gaskin, Tara Jones, Dawn Taylor and Katie May in committing for the forthcoming campaign.Head coach Mark Brennan said: “We are delighted that these players have committed to signing at Saints this year.“Pip, Jade and Carys have all come through the Thatto Heath girls section which has a rich history of producing players. They are committed to learning and developing in our system.“Sarah is a player I have worked with at England Students and at GB Teacher level and she will bring a boost to our pack this year. Isabelle will be great for us as a middle unit player who has been developing her skills, whilst Charlotte is a strong running centre who is very physical and a real attacking threat.“Naomi adds experience to the squad and that is important as she will help us guide the younger players.“The team is starting to come together now and training has been going very well with players being challenged to learn and develop.“We are all working really hard as a group to ensure we are ready for the season ahead.”Isabelle Rudge started playing rugby league at the age of 11 and then played for Warrington Girls at under 14s and under 16s. From there, she played rugby union at Northumbria University for three years before returning to rugby league when she graduated.Charlotte Hill has represented Lancashire u18s as well as playing rugby union for Southport RUFC.Sarah Lovejoy comes to the club with plenty of rugby experience. She has played for Leyland Warriors, Chorley Panthers, Stanningley and Preston Grasshoppers as well as for North West Colleges (Rugby Union).She has also appeared for England Students and Great Britain Teachers and played in the Lancashire Women’s Rugby League in the summer and winter leagues. She has also played for Lancashire women’s rugby union for four seasons.Carys Marsh has played for Thatto Heath from under 16s. She has also appeared for Lancashire u18s and North of England u18s at Rugby Union as well as England Students Rugby League.Naomi Williams has played Thatto Heath for two seasons before joining St Helens Ladies. She has also represented her county and country at different levels.Philippa (Pip) Birchall played at Thatto Heath for six years before joining the open age side at 16. She has also represented her county.Jade Ward has been at Thatto heath since 2010 and has represented Lancashire on several occasions.All of the Ladies team is available for sponsorship. Please contact [email protected] for further information.Pictured in order are Philippa Birchall, Jade Ward, Sarah Lovejoy, Naomi Williams, Isabelle Rudge, Charlotte Hill and Carys Marsh. read more
You can follow all the latest from the game by just clicking on the Match Centre button to follow the feed and enjoy exclusive content throughout the 80 minutes!