Kayley Mitchel is 12 years old and has cerebral palsy. At the 2019 Australian Indoor Rowing Championships (AIRC) she set six world records for her age group and para category.
Since birth Kayley has seen a specialist. At the age of 10, there was talk of surgery which would entail Kayley’s legs to be lengthened by the tendon in her calf, injecting Botox into her muscle, stretching it then attaching a cast. This would be done once a week for three months, which would mean no physical activity with limitations, frustrations, discomfort and pain.
For Kayley, who has grown up in a ‘can-do anything’ environment, news of surgery was a devastating blow to her. In discussions with the specialist, her parents negotiated for this surgery to be delayed by using targeted exercises and stretches. This gave them six months reprieve as well as six months more of racing for Kayley.
Kayley started BMX riding in 2016 and developed a love and passion to race. She has been very successful competing in four state competitions, two nationals qualifying for worlds this year and a possible World Championship in Texas USA next year. Kayley has achieved numerous awards, trophies and plates for BMX which has brought a whole lot of confidence.
Kayley’s mother, Bec, is a client at a Fit Body Fitness Training Studio, where she first met Rachael, who is now Kayley’s trainer. Bec approached Rachael with the intent to prolong time for surgery as well as helping Kayley reach better placings in her BMX racing. Kayley and Rachel have now been training together for 12 months.
When Kayley came to her first session it was noticeable that she walked with difficulty, one foot on the tip of her toes and her leg pronating inward as she walked. Kayley had less muscle tone and strength on that side, noticeably in her calf and less strength and mobility in her arms.
Kayley was unable to skip, hop or run, most exercises required lots of work with foot and hip adjustments.
“I was amazed that Kayley raced, and I could also see that the recovery and pain from racing was taking its toll on her body, focus and mindset questioning her ability to herself if she was good enough.” Rachael said of her first meeting with Kayley.
Since training with Rachael, Kayley has done various strength training exercises, as well as mobility work, cardio and focusing on her agility. She has immersed herself in the training environment and with Rachael training her she has now done most things in the gym. Kayley is constantly improving her technique, focus and muscle memory. When things get tough Rachael helps Kayley with her mindset towards training and ensuring that she is focusing on her wins in the training environment.
This and more saw Kayley not only skipping in eight weeks but, being able to skip on one leg either side and hopping on each leg.
After starting training with Rachael, Kayley was due for another check in with her surgeon. The surgeon was blown away with her results and gave them another six months before they assessed where Kayley was at.
From then on Rachael introduced ergo rowing, they had used the rower in warm-ups and circuits, then started interval sprints and Rachael started recording times with distances. Kayley’s technique and form grew as her endurance speed and power saw her with better times and distances.
Rachael had competed in the Australian Indoor Rowing Championships (AIRC) for the past three years. She had the idea that Kayley would greatly benefit from competing, which would also compliment her BMX racing, so training for this event was double the benefit for both sports.
Rachael then contacted Rowing Australia to see if Kayley would be able to race in PR3 PD category, which to their excitement they were able to do. Once they found out she was able to compete, Kayley threw herself into training for the AIRC.
On the morning of the AIRC Kayley was quite nervous, Rachael walked her out on the floor and reassured her all would be ok.
Well she absolutely smashed it! Under 19 PR3 2000m in a time of 9:18.9, 970 meters in four-minutes and backing up to post 1:58.7 for 500m. These efforts won her three gold medals.
Rachael broke the news to Kayley a couple of days later “I spoke with Kayley and her mum via face-time in the car. I told Kayley, not only do you have three gold medals you have three world records, I paused and said just joking – you have six world records!
“Well she let out a cheer and her face beamed with excitement. Kayley’s mum had had to keep it a secret all afternoon until we face timed.”
The next time Kayley saw the surgeon, the response was “There is no need for surgery.”
Kayley spoke of all her sports at school and her surgeon took so many notes as he is working on other protocols for treating kids like Kayley. She will now only visit him once per year and not every six months, unless there is an injury.
The next few months as quite busy for Kayley with BMX nationals event and world events early 2020 as well as setting her sights on the Queensland Championships in June for Indoor Rowing at the Sunshine Coast. The latter will see her compete in the 100m, 1000m, One-Minute, 2000m and 500m Relay. She will be working on some new personal bests, Australian and World Records, as well as focusing on her newfound love, Indoor Rowing.