TULLY – #MyStory

Tully

About me

My name is Tully, I have spastic diplegia CP and Generalised Dystonia which affects my whole body.

Where it all began

Growing up my mum took me to swimming lessons but I never learnt how to swim. I was always too afraid to try until one day on a family holiday I was thrown into the pool by my dad I started to swim. When I was about 6 years old I used to spend most nights at the local swimming pool with my mum watching my brother train. One night the coach asked if I wanted to join in and I completely fell in love with the sport. It was the first sport I’d tried that I could actually do and I was so happy that I could finally do something my brother did as I always wanted to be able to do everything that he could. I started training with the local swimming club and gradually built up to full training. In 2011 at the age of 13 I was introduced to para swimming and was classified. At my first British swimming nationals I was noticed by the British Para Swimming talent team and selected for the podium potential programme (was called development squad back then). When I was fourteen I got a scholarship to the Royal School, Wolverhampton to their elite swimming squad and became a weekly boarder. This is where I started training more seriously and in April of 2013 I qualified for my first major international meet – the 2013 World Championships in Montreal. After this I moved to a local school for sixth form and went back to my home club of Boldmere where in April of 2015 I qualified for my second World Championships in Glasgow. I then moved to Manchester to train at the National Performance Centre and start studying Physiology and Manchester Metropolitan University. Two months before the 2015 world championships I developed a shoulder injury caused by overtraining due to me having CP as my left side is not as strong so therefore more prone to injury. It was treated with steroid injections and I left the world champs as Britain’s highest medal earner.

The next season the injury came back and the dystonia reacted to the injury meaning I developed fixed contractures in both my shoulders meaning I was unable to swim and in a lot of pain. Due to this, I had to withdraw from the Rio 2016 Paralymic Games two weeks before it started which was devastating. I lost my position at the National Performance Centre and lost my funding.  I had a year out of the pool focusing on my university work and coming to terms with my increased level of disability. During this time I started to look at the possibility of other sports but due to the weakness on my left side and limited range of movement in my shoulders I couldn’t find a sport that I could actually do or cope with the pain doing it brought. I decided in April of 2017 to try getting back into swimming. It was very scary at first as I didn’t know what my body could do now and if I would actually be able to swim. It took a long time and a lot of pushing through pain barriers and learning how to swim in a completely different way as I no longer had the use of my legs and had limited range in my arms but eventually I got there. I started training with City of Manchester Further Education Squad, coached by Matt Walker – an retired para swimmer who was also an old teammate.

In Febuary of 2018 after constantly being bugged to try Race Running (now known as Frame Running) by my friend and fellow MMU sports scholar Hannah Dines who is a para cyclist and racerunner I attended a CP Sport RaceRunning taster day and absolutely loved it. I’d always wanted to be able to run growing up but never could so RaceRuning gave me the freedom to move around at my own pace unaided. Due to my dystonia progressing I was no longer able to walk far and use a wheelchair almost all the time so being able to get out of my chair and use my legs was such an amazing feeling. After a few months of trying to find somewhere in Manchester that I could go RaceRunning without any luck as I didn’t have my own frame I decided to give up trying and focused on swimming instead.

In April of 2017 I was reclassified on the new classification system and came out as an S5. I qualified in two events for the 2018 European Championships in Dublin. I was delighted as I didn’t know if I’d ever be good enough to return to international competition. I came back from Europeans with a Gold in the 100m freestyle and a bronze in the 50m freestyle.  After Europeans I needed to take a few months out of the pool so I decided I would try out RaceRunning again for general fitness and to get my legs moving and help loosen them a bit. Hannah was brilliant and took me to the track she trains at where she keeps her RaceRunner and let me try it. She introduced me to my now Coach Rick Hoskins form Stockport Harriers and lets me use her frame as many time as I’d like so I can train every week whilst I wait for my own RaceRunner to be built. Without Hannah I would have never tried this amazing sport and I would defiantly not have been able to train every week.

Frame Running has massively helped my swimming as its kept my fitness levels ticking over whilst I’ve been out of the pool, its helped improve the power of my push offs and my feet positioning on the wall, and most importantly its enabled me to socialise with other disabled athletes from a different sport and make some great friends and some people with the same conditions as myself. I took part in a CP sport athletic series event at Stoke Mandeville which was my first ever athletics competition and I absolutely loved it. During lockdown I was determined to stay fit as I knew that if I didn’t continue training I would quickly lose strength and range of motion which would take me a very long time to build back up. With this in mind I decided to buy an above ground pool to go in the garden which I swam in stationary attached to a bungee cord we put around the fence post. I also had my Frame Runner on top of a treadmill in the garage so I could continue to train, and some gym equipment in the garage.

Training

As I cannot train as much as I used to before 2016 so I’ve been filling up my spare time between swim and gym sessions at the track on the Frame Runner. I train anywhere between two and four times a week on the track depending on fatigue and where my swim training is at. It’s become apparent that the load of Frame Running on my shoulders, although not a lot, is very beneficial to me in terms of remaining injury free. It helps keep the back of my shoulders that little bit stronger which helps protect me against injuries in the pool when my muscles start to fatigue.

Competition

At my first World Championships in 2013 I came away with a bronze in the S10 400m freestyle. This was my first major international completion and was an amazing and overwhelming experience. It was definatly a good learning curve for me.

In 2015 I came away from the 2015 World Championships with four Golds in 100m butterfly, 400m freestyle, 200m Individual Medley and the 4x100m Medley relay (I swam fly), a silver in the 100m backstroke and a bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay. I was Britain’s highest medal earner for this event. This was totally overwhelming. I went into this competition ranked no.1 in my top three events but you never know what can happen on the day so I never expected that I’d actually win all three and that we would win the relay.

In 2018 at the European Championships I won Gold in the 100m freestyle and bronze in the 50m freestyle. Those two medals mean the most to me because of all of the challenges I had to face and overcome. At this event, I had to go through reclassification and was put a classification for the first five days of competition due to a mistake in my classification before being moved back down to the S5 class. This meant I missed half of my races and was extremely stressful not knowing if it would be sorted by the end of the meet.

In 2019 at the World Championships I won Gold in the S5 50m, 100m, and 200m freestyle. This season was a really tough one as I had bilateral shoulder surgery in September so had very little training and we didn’t know if I’d be physically fit to race leading up to the championships so winning all three of my races was a massive shock and just felt so amazing. In 2021 at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo I won Gold in the S5 100m freestyle and silver in the 200m freestyle. Going into the games, a year delayed due to the pandemic was a stressful time for me as I didn’t know what to expect and I had been struggling with a shoulder injury so I was worried about my fitness levels and if I’d be able to swim fast enough to make the finals. With the help of the British Para Swimming Team Physio and Paralympics GB medical team I was able to compete and surprised everyone with how fast I swam, even breaking the world record in the 100m freestyle.

The impact sport has had on my life

For me sport was everything growing up. It gave me an outlet to let out all of my frustrations related to my disability, it made me feel like I could achieve and helped me to feel like any other ‘normal’ kid who didn’t have extra challenges to face in life. It was a good escape. Swimming taught me discipline, respect, how to overcome challenges and most importantly gave me confidence in my abilities. In the pool I was treated like any other average kid. I didn’t need any help I could be completely independent and I loved the freedom that came with that. As I can no longer train as much in the pool due to my increased level of impairment I often doing get as much of a rush from swimming as I used to. Frame Running is a really good way for me to clear my head and get the adrenaline rush that I so desperately seek. It’s become an integral part of my swimming training as it keeps my legs as strong and stretches out as possible and helps keep me in a good place mentally.

My Ambitions in sport

Winning gold medals isn’t everything. Having fun and enjoying training and racing is the key to being happy and is also key to good performances. I would love to one day go to a Paralympic Games to compete in two sports.

My advice to others with cp who might want to try sport

Sport can have so many benefits to people with CP. It might take you a while to find the right sport for you, and as you get older that sport may change but don’t ever give up because I can tell you that when you find the right one it is so worth it.

Tully is an Ambassador for CP Sport

Tully Kearney Paralympic Champion

Tully

About me

My name is Tully and I have spastic diplegia CP and Generalised Dystonia which affects my whole body.

Where it all began

Growing up my mum took me to swimming lessons but I never learnt how to swim. I was always too afraid to try until one day on a family holiday I was thrown into the pool by my dad I started to swim. When I was about 6 years old I used to spend most nights at the local swimming pool with my mum watching my brother train. One night the coach asked if I wanted to join in and I completely fell in love with the sport. It was the first sport I’d tried that I could actually do and I was so happy that I could finally do something my brother did as I always wanted to be able to do everything that he could. I started training with the local swimming club and gradually built up to full training. In 2011 at the age of 13 I was introduced to para swimming and was classified. At my first British swimming nationals I was noticed by the British Para Swimming talent team and selected for the podium potential programme (was called development squad back then). When I was fourteen I got a scholarship to the Royal School, Wolverhampton to their elite swimming squad and became a weekly boarder. This is where I started training more seriously and in April of 2013 I qualified for my first major international meet – the 2013 World Championships in Montreal. After this I moved to a local school for sixth form and went back to my home club of Boldmere where in April of 2015 I qualified for my second World Championships in Glasgow. I then moved to Manchester to train at the National Performance Centre and start studying Physiology and Manchester Metropolitan University. Two months before the 2015 world championships I developed a shoulder injury caused by overtraining due to me having CP as my left side is not as strong so therefore more prone to injury. It was treated with steroid injections and I left the world champs as Britain’s highest medal earner. The next season the injury came back and the dystonia reacted to the injury meaning I developed fixed contractures in both my shoulders meaning I was unable to swim and in a lot of pain. Due to this, I had to withdraw from the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games two weeks before it started which was devastating. I lost my position at the National Performance Centre and lost my funding.  I had a year out of the pool focusing on my university work and coming to terms with my increased level of disability. During this time I started to look at the possibility of other sports but due to the weakness on my left side and limited range of movement in my shoulders I couldn’t find a sport that I could actually do or cope with the pain doing it brought. I decided in April of 2017 to try getting back into swimming. It was very scary at first as I didn’t know what my body could do now and if I would actually be able to swim. It took a long time and a lot of pushing through pain barriers and learning how to swim in a completely different way as I no longer had the use of my legs and had limited range in my arms but eventually I got there. I started training with City of Manchester Further Education Squad, coached by Matt Walker – an retired para swimmer who was also an old teammate.

In Febuary of 2018 after constantly being bugged to try racerunning by my friend and fellow MMU sports scholar Hannah Dines who is a para cyclist and RaceRunner I attended a CP Sport RaceRunning (now known as Frame Running) taster day and absolutely loved it. I’d always wanted to be able to run growing up but never could so raceruning gave me the freedom to move around at my own pace unaided. Due to my dystonia progressing I was no longer able to walk far and use a wheelchair almost all the time so being able to get out of my chair and use my legs was such an amazing feeling. After a few months of trying to find somewhere in Manchester that I could go RaceRunning without any luck as I didn’t have my own frame I decided to give up trying and focused on swimming instead.

In April of 2017 I was reclassified on the new classification system and came out as an S5. I qualified in two events for the 2018 European Championships in Dublin. I was delighted as I didn’t know if I’d ever be good enough to return to international competition. I came back from Europeans with a Gold in the 100m freestyle and a bronze in the 50m freestyle.  After Europeans I needed to take a few months out of the pool so I decided I would try out racerunning again for general fitness and to get my legs moving and help loosen them a bit. Hannah was brilliant and took me to the track she trains at where she keeps her RaceRunner and let me try it. She introduced me to my now Coach Rick Hoskins form Stockport Harriers and lets me use her frame as many time as I’d like so I can train every week whilst I wait for my own RaceRunner to be built. Without Hannah I would have never tried this amazing sport and I would definately not have been able to train every week. RaceRunning has massively helped my swimming as its kept my fitness levels ticking over whilst I’ve been out of the pool, its helped improve the power of my push offs and my feet positioning on the wall, and most importantly its enabled me to socialise with other disabled athletes from a different sport and make some great friends and some people with the same conditions as myself. I took part in a CP Sport athletic series event at Stoke Mandeville which was my first ever athletics competition and I absolutely loved it.

During lockdown I was determined to stay fit as I knew that. If I didn’t continue training I would quickly loose strength and range of motion which would take me a very long time to build back up. With this in mind I decided to buy an above ground pool to go in the garden which I swam in stationary attached to a bungee cord we put around the fence post. I also had my Frame Runner on top of a treadmill in the garage so I could continue to train, and some gym equipment in the garage.

Training

As I cannot train as much as I used to before 2016 so I’ve been filling up my spare time between swim and gym sessions at the track on the Frame Runner. I train anywhere between two and four times a week on the track depending on fatigue and where my swim training is at. It’s become apparent that the load of Frame Running on my shoulders, although not a lot, is very beneficial to me in terms of remaining injury free. It helps keep the back of my shoulders that little bit stronger which helps protect me against injuries in the pool when my muscles start to fatigue.

Competition

At my first World Championships in 2013 I came away with a bronze in the S10 400m freestyle. This was my first major international completion and was an amazing and overwhelming experience. It was definatly a good learning curve for me.

In 2015 I came away from the 2015 World Championships with four Golds in 100m butterfly, 400m freestyle, 200m Individual Medley and the 4x100m Medley relay (I swam fly), a silver in the 100m backstroke and a bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay. I was Britain’s highest medal earner for this event. This was totally overwhelming. I went into this competition ranked no.1 in my top three events but you never know what can happen on the day so I never expected that I’d actually win all three and that we would win the relay.

In 2018 at the European Championships I won Gold in the 100m freestyle and bronze in the 50m freestyle. There two medals mean the most to me because of all of the challenges I had to face and overcome. At this event, I had to go through reclassification and was put a classification for the first five days of competition due to a mistake in my classification before being moved back down to the S5 class. This meant I missed half of my races and was extremely stressful not knowing if it would be sorted by the end of the meet.

In 2019 at the World Championships I won Gold in the S5 50m, 100m, and 200m freestyle. This season was a really tough one as I had bilateral shoulder surgery in September so had very little training and we didn’t know if I’d be physically fit to race leading up to the championships so winning all three of my races was a massive shock and just felt so amazing. In 2021 at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo I won Gold in the S5 100m freestyle and silver in the 200m freestyle. Going into the games, a year delayed due to the pandemic was a stressful time for me as I didn’t know what to expect and I had been struggling with a shoulder injury so I was worried about my fitness levels and if I’d be able to swim fast enough to make the finals. With the help of the British Para Swimming Team Physio and Paralympics GB medical team I was able to compete and surprised everyone with how fast I swam, even breaking the world record in the 100m freestyle.

The impact sport has had on my life

For me sport was everything growing up. It gave me an outlet to let out all of my frustrations related to my disability, it made me feel like I could achieve and helped me to feel like any other ‘normal’ kid who didn’t have extra challenges to face in life. It was a good escape. Swimming taught me discipline, respect, how to overcome challenges and most importantly gave me confidence in my abilities. In the pool I was treated like any other average kid. I didn’t need any help I could be completely independent and I loved the freedom that came with that. As I can no longer train as much in the pool due to my increased level of impairment I often doing get as much of a rush from swimming as I used to. Frame Running is a really good way for me to clear my head and get the adrenaline rush that I so desperately seek. It’s become an integral part of my swimming training as it keeps my legs as strong and stretches out as possible and helps keep me in a good place mentally.

My Ambitions in sport

I’ve now realised that winning gold medals isn’t everything. Having fun and enjoying training and racing is the key to being happy and is also key to good performances. I would love to one day go to a Paralympic Games to compete in two sports.

My advice to others with cp who might want to try sport

Sport can have so many benefits to people with CP. It might take you a while to find the right sport for you, and as you get older that sport may change but don’t ever give up because I can tell you that when you find the right one it is so worth it.

Tully is a CP Sport Ambassador

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