JACK AGNEW: "I MISS RACING AND HAVE BEEN ITCHING TO GET BACK ON THE TRACK"

Watching David Weir shine at the London 2012 Paralympic Games inspired Jack Agnew to give wheelchair racing a try – and he has not looked back since. A wheelchair basketball star in his early years, Belfast-born Jack captained Northern Ireland Knights in various regional competitions around the UK and represented Great Britain’s Under-20s squad at the age of just 13. Unsurprisingly it didn't take him long to show his potential on the track.
01 April, 2021

Watching David Weir shine at the London 2012 Paralympic Games inspired Jack Agnew to give wheelchair racing a try – and he has not looked back since.

A wheelchair basketball star in his early years, Belfast-born Jack captained Northern Ireland Knights in various regional competitions around the UK and represented Great Britain’s Under-20s squad at the age of just 13.

But David’s exploits in London gave the sport-mad youngster, now 21, another avenue to explore and it did not take him long to show his potential.

“At school with a disability, I often had to coach or referee when I wanted to get involved and do everything,” explained Jack, who was born with spina bifida and competes in the T54 category.

“I loved playing basketball but after the Paralympics, seeing how well David Weir did, I thought ‘there’s another thing I want to try.’

“There was a ‘come and try it’ event on which I went to and it all spiralled from there. My coach, Heather Ardis, was there and spotted that I was quick.

“I was always fast around the basketball court so I fell in love with it pretty quickly. I went to a few more and just stuck at it.”

Jack, who is still under Ardis’ guidance at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast, earmarked himself as one to watch with victory in the London mini marathon in 2014 and soon he was starring in a GB vest once more – this time on a track rather than a basketball court.

Having impressed at the Brazilian National Championships in 2015, Jack’s glut of medals at the Junior World Championships in Switzerland two years later demonstrated a Weir-esque versatility.

“I won golds in the 800m and 1,500m, silvers in the 400m and 200m and a 100m bronze,” he said. “That was Under-20s so it was a step up and it felt unreal, though it was daunting at the start.

“I don’t tend to get nervous but seeing all these new people from around the world made it a different experience. I loved every minute of it and it felt unbelievable winning all those medals.”

A place in the Northern Ireland squad for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 followed but another memorable experience came with a sting in the tail as Jack picked up a back injury on the long-haul flight back from the Gold Coast.

Seven months on the sidelines proved frustrating but he returned to record a string of personal bests at the Swiss Grand Prix and hoped to make his senior Great Britain bow at the European Championships last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic put paid to those ambitions and though Jack is still training hard, he admits nothing can replicate the buzz of competition.

“It’s not even the Europeans [being postponed], it’s just not being able to compete in general that is hard,” said Jack, who counts Switzerland’s two-time Paralympic champion Marcel Hug – the host of training camps he has been a regular visitor to over the years – alongside David as an inspiration.

“I miss racing and I have been itching to get back on the track, but it is what it is. I just have to try and take it in my stride and get on with it. I am training hard at the minute and I will go again next season. Winter training is when the hard work comes in so it’s tough, but hopefully it will pay off.

“I will aim for the Europeans again and hopefully with all the training I’m putting in I’ll be able to make it. I have Paralympic ambitions, that’s the ultimate goal, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to go one step at a time and keep aiming for the next bigger thing.”

Fishing and dog walking have helped keep Jack occupied during lockdown, along with studying for a foundation degree in software engineering at Belfast Metropolitan College which he hopes to build upon at either Ulster University or Queen's University Belfast.

And his sporting ambitions are being kept on track with assistance from SportsAid and Gateley – a leading legal and professional services group – with Jack among the athletes to benefit from funding as a result of a new partnership.

“The kit is really expensive to compete in wheelchair racing,” he said. “My dad, Jim, has been unbelievable over the years for trying to get funding and he comes to all my competitions.

“This funding will help pay for the kit, and then there is getting over to the competitions and training camps to compete, so it will also help with flights and accommodation.

“Having this backing means I am doing something right – now I just have to go out and do it. SportsAid have supported athletes I have looked up to from a young age so to think you are on the same pathway as them is surreal but brilliant.”

Gateley is a legal and professional services group working with forward thinkers and new talent, in both business and in sport. They are proudly partnering with SportsAid to give additional support to promising young athletes across the country in a variety of sports.