Express campaign - Let’s Get Leah to Rio

Leah Evans with her gold medal from the under-25 wheelchair basketball championships.
Leah Evans with her gold medal from the under-25 wheelchair basketball championships.
  • 18-year-old Leah Evans needs to raise £25,000 to make her Paralympic dream come true
  • Express calls on readers and business to back our Let’s Get Leah to Rio campaign
  • Teenager has already won gold medal with Team GB under-25s

At the age of just four-years-old Leah Evans was told she would never walk again.

She was born with bilateral congenital hip deformities - a condition which means she has no hip joints.

But after undergoing experimental surgery and 16 operations at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, she learned to walk at the age of five.

She loved to dance and did it six days a week for ten years until, at the age of 15, Leah had a fall and was taken back to hospital.

Her surgeon told her there was nothing else he could do and that she would need a wheelchair.

Now, three years on, Leah, of Gypsy Lane, Townville, is a European bronze medallist and won gold with Great Britain’s under-25 team in Beijing in July.

Leah in action for Wakefield Whirlwinds.

Leah in action for Wakefield Whirlwinds.

Her dream is to go on and compete at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

But Leah and her family have counted up costs and say they need to raise £25,000 to cover the cost of a new wheelchair and her travel expenses.

The Express is now calling on businesses and readers across the Five Towns to back Leah in her quest to compete on the greatest sporting stage.

Leah, now 18, said: “It would be an absolute dream to compete in Rio. I still can’t believe it myself that I might have this opportunity.

“I will be sat watching it on TV with my mum and say how amazing it is and she just says to me that’s what you’re doing.’”

The teenager started wheelchair basketball with Wakefield Whirlwinds in 2013 and she has also represented the north of England schools’ team.

Her mum Dawn, 50, said: “While Leah was in hospital she met somebody from Hemsworth who played wheelchair basketball for Wakefield Whirlwinds.

“They got talking and he told her all about the sport and she cried for weeks after her treatment then a few weeks later we were at Featherstone Sports Centre and she was smack in the middle of the court.

“She said it was the best day ever and she absolutely loved it. That’s how it all started.”

Former Airedale Academy pupil Leah is now studying sports science with a special interest in disability sport at Worcester University.

She trains for five hours a day and also plays for Sheffield Steelers as well as Team GB.

Mrs Evans, 50, said: “I am so proud of her because she could have just given up but instead she came out fighting.

“She has got such a strong character and doesn’t let anything faze her.

“It would be a dream come true for her to go to Rio. She never thought she would have a proper life after what happened but she now wants wheelchair basketball to be her career.

“She lives for it.”

Leah and her family have now teamed up with the Express and Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper to launch a fundraising campaign to help her with training and equipment costs.

She currently trains five mornings and two afternoons a week.

Mrs Evans said the rough cost of her travel and equipment between now and the Rio games next September was £25,000.

Leah said: “The wheelchairs I use can cost up to £5,000 as well so it can get really expensive. Anything that anybody can give will make a huge difference.”

Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper has backed the campaign to make Leah’s Rio dream come true.

Ms Cooper called on businesses across the Five Towns to sponsor the 18-year-old in her Paralympic dream.

She said: “It is amazing that we have got somebody so inspiring. Leah is a real inspiration to people across the Five Towns.

“Her determination and talent is amazing. To have a Paralympian from Castleford would be unbelievable and this is our chance, as a community, to back her.”

Ms Cooper has already secured sponsorship from Haribo and Lonza towards Leah’s £25,000 target.

She said: “When I spoke to Leah I realised how much there is involved in getting to Rio and she needs to raise around £25,000.

“The players and their families have to raise a lot of that money themselves and we don’t want Leah to lose her chance.

“That’s why I think everyone in the area should pull together and help.”

For more information or if you would like to donate to the campaign visit https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/letsgetleahtorio or call Ms Cooper’s office on 01977 553430.