Game Changers! Three Midlands Sports Stars Making an Impact at a World Class Standard

The Midlands is a breeding ground of talent and creativity. This time Ricardo Domingos looks at who’s making an impact on the sports field, representing the UK and the midlands at a world class standard.

Photo: Alan Edwards, British Gymnastics

joe fraser

“On the Rings I had a new strength move, so I was very happy to get that done and stick my dismount.” Joe Fraser said this just after being crowned the English all round gymnastics champion for the fifth time earlier this year, it’s a pretty modest statement for a 20-year old Brummy lad who is at the absolute top of his game. His ambition and skill earned him the Sky Sports Scholarship, a position that stands him alongside some of the most exciting young talents in the country, but he has proved time and time again how much he deserves it.

Growing up in Edgbaston, Joe has always dreamed of performing in a big venue in front of a home crowd. The 2022 Commonwealth Games may be his chance to live that dream, as the gymnastics is to be held in the Birmingham Arena. But Joe is well aware he has to work hard to be at the top of his game to get there. In 2018 he suffered a devastating ankle ligament injury that required surgery and dashed his hopes of competing in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. His recovery has been arduous but he’s reaping the rewards now, looking better than ever.

That new strength move on the rings that he so casually mentions, it’s madness. I’m sure to the trained eye it’s a feat of great precision, skill and delicacy. To the untrained eye (i.e. mine and probably yours) it’s absolutely bonkers. Imagine someone froze Superman midfligh, just glued him to two rings and left him there, keeping his whole body perfectly flat and still, for ages. Now come to the terms with the fact that he’s not Superman and he’s not frozen, he’s just an incredibly talented, mortal 20-year old. Oh, and he does double flip corkscrew to dismount and absolutely sticks the landing.

That’s Joe Fraser. He’s great. You’ll hear more about him at the 2022 Commonwealth Games I’m sure.

Photo: Osborne Hollis

NICK CUMMINs

“I’m somebody who believes I can” This is Nick. Not only is Nick currently undertaking a PhD in History at the Univeristy of Leicester, he’s also an Olympic athlete representing Team GB in Wheelchair Rugby, which is absolutely mad to watch. But more on that later.

At age nineteen, Nick contracted Meningococcal Septicaemia, an illness which is as terrifying as the name suggests, causing his limbs to weaken. It’s a devastating thing to happen at such a young age, but during his rehabilitation Nick took up Wheelchair Rugby and made the absolute most of it. Having defended his Division One title earlier in the year with Leicester Tigers (after going a whole season undefeated) Nick represented Great Britain once again in the 2019 IWRF European Championship this Summer.

So, Wheelchair Rugby. If you haven’t alreadyseen any, give it a watch. It’s mad. Played on a wooden court, the players zip around with lightning speed and agility, twisting and turning their modified wheelchairs with an unbelievable elegance. All this while being repeatedly smashed into. Remember how I said the chairs were modified? They’re designed both to hit harder and take harder hits, and boy do they need it. Have a watch of
the GB vs. Australia match highlights from May. It takes about 10 minutes before the pristine Basketball court they are using gets absolutely covered in skid marks. The big hits are huge, metallic thuds that echo around the room and put you on the edge of your seat. If you’ve not seen a live match then you really are missing a trick, expecially as one of Wheelchair Rugby’s biggest tournaments; the King Power Wheelchair Rugby Quad Nations, takes place in Leicester every year and sees the very best players from across the globe take part. Keep an eye out for the next tournament in early 2020.

Photo: Lawn Tennis Association

KATIE BOULTER

Travelling the world to hit a fluffy yellow thing” That’s Katie Boulter’s Twitter bio. She’s a 22-year-old, world class tennis player from a little village in Leicester by the name of Woodhouse Eaves. While this may be the last place you would expect to find a world class tennis player, it may help to explain the modesty of that Twitter bio. Back in February, Boulter reached a career high ranking of 82nd in the world, she’s won five singles and four doubles on the ITF Women’s Circuit and has qualified for multiple majors. But hey, to her it’s all just hitting “a flufy yellow thing”.

Boulter has enjoyed a steady rise, with consistency showing that she is one to watch for the future. With a tennis player’s blood already in her veins (Boulter’s mother represented Great Britain) she began playing
at just five years old, saying that much of her motivation came from beating her older brother. Three years later and she was already representing Great Britain; at eleven she won the Lemon Bowl tournament in Rome; at fourteen was a finalist in Orange Bowl Championship in Florida. Honestly, the list goes on and on.

There’s plenty more to say about Katie. About how she battled back from a fatigue illness which put her out of competition for a year. About how she fought back to go up against Serena Williams and Roger Federer. But
let me just leave you with this; look up Boulter’s lob shot against Slovakia in the Federation Cup. She returns a savage serve before having to dash across court to return again. She leans down for the backhand and she’s got everyone convinced she’s going to hammer it down the line. Instead she pulls off a stunning lob shot, from one by-line to the other. It’s an impossible shot, and if that doesn’t convince you how good she is, nothing will.

Boulter is supported by the LTA’s Pro Scholarship Programme, which provides world class coaching, physio, lifestyle, wellbeing and fitness support for players aged 16 to 24 who have the greatest potential to reach the world top 100 within five years.

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