Hayley Ginn puts runners on the right track with Carbon Motion
The access to para-sport has grown recent years and we talk to a coach making that possible by teaching lower limb amputees how to run again.
“There was an amputee in his 70s who wanted to just be more mobile round his garden with his grandchildren and had tried for 20 years to be able to break into a jog and never really achieved it,” explains the unassuming Hayley Ginn.
“He came to an event and the first thing he said to me was ‘you’ll never get me to run because everyone else has failed’.
“Once we achieved that, and he started running, it was quite emotional; that feeling gave me this buzz and I needed to do something with it.”
That was the beginning for what is now Carbon Motion, Ginn’s company aimed at getting more lower limb amputees active and running.
With that modest approach, there appears to be a determined and focused side to Ginn.
It was through attending events with charities such as Limb Power that the initial seeds were sown, as there was a need for helping amputees to run but there was nowhere or no-one for them to turn to for advice or support.
Ginn was already a long-time athletics coach, and had helped to put Jonnie Peacock on his way to double Paralympic glory as his first coach.
Having grown up in the sport, Ginn was a talented middle distance runner before giving it all up for various reasons when she was 15, but she was coaxed back into athletics by her now husband when she was 17.
Through Richard Wheater, now performance and development director at Loughborough University, Ginn began coaching the sprinters at Cambridge University Athletics Club, and was helped in getting on courses and receiving guidance.
In 2009, Paula Dunn, now head coach for British Athletics’ Paralympic programme, had just taken up a role working in Talent ID on the Paralympic side of British Athletics, and she was tasked with finding a coach for a 15-year-old athlete who had run 8.42sec over 60m in a day leg.
Dunn approached Ginn, who had been recommended for the role by Wheater.
“He threw it out there and gave me a chance, throwing an opportunity that would challenge but that if it worked out, it could be quite good; and it would give me some confidence and direction,” said Ginn.
“We started working once a week together. I couldn’t come across as if I had worked with amputees before because I hadn’t, so I was just honest about things.
“I just approached it like I would coach anybody else and where we couldn’t do certain things, we worked it out along the way.”
That initial work with Peacock helped create a good foundation for Ginn to work with future athletes, and a career path started to evolve.
Ginn focused on teaching lower limb amputees, specifically, and also people with club foot or some kind of issue or injury to their ankles which made it more difficult to move around.
The work can be with youngsters through to pensioners, and it could be for a variety of different reasons that they have lost their limbs. They may not be aspiring to be an athlete, but are just looking to get back into running for recreational or fitness purposes.
It is that aspect which makes Ginn’s work fascinating.
She specialised in biomechanics on her degree, and admits that it is something she is “geeky” about, with her approach being to treat the runners as able-bodied athletes.
Ginn’s method is to consider how she would teach any person how to run.
“I try to get them to move as close to full human locomotion as possible, without any adaptations,” she says.
“There are specifics you need to learn about amputees in order to teach them how to run though.
“What it’s about is learning those specifics, what the different legs are, how they work, how they are set up.
“I don’t set up the limbs because I’m not a prosthetist but I know how I want to see the prothesis positioned in order to move.
“Sometimes people say, ‘OK we need to adapt the amputated side if they are a unilateral amputee, to be as mobile as possible’. Actually, sometimes it’s a case of dumbing down the able side to almost match what the amputated side is doing.
“We’re looking at biomechanics and being balanced as more important than actually looking for the perfect technical model.”
It means that Ginn takes an all-inclusive approach, linking in with the prosthetist and the physios to work as a team to find the best running prothesis.
Her approach though changed slightly when working with London Paralympic silver medallist Richard Browne, who relocated to Cambridge to work with Ginn.
They changed the Americans running blade, but the biggest alteration was changing the way he started, and that all came down to biomechanics.
Ginn had always sought to get a unilateral amputee’s amputated side moving as close to the able-bodied limb as possible.
“With the blade they haven’t got as much control because they don’t have an ankle joint,” she explains.
“We’re functioning with a knee joint, hip joint and an ankle joint, whereas they haven’t got that ankle joint so they don’t have that control at the foot because the foot isn’t there.
“You have to set that blade biomechanically but there is no ability to adapt the blade position during the run once the blade is set up. When we run through the different phases of a 100m, at the drive phase, your ankle position can change to some degree – they can’t.
“You are working with one unit in one phase of your running, which needs to be different than from upright phase of running slightly.
“It’s not massively different but there are slight nuances and slight differences.”
What Ginn worked out with Browne was that the position he needed to be in when upright was not working in the drive phase of sprinting.
The decision was made not to extend the ‘push’ on his able side in order to be better balanced when upright, even though it may lose time through the start/drive.
She added: “That’s what we did and that’s the first time I’d gone the opposite way, and I’d gone ‘Actually I’m going to go against what we’re looking for biomechanically and actually try to get your able side to balance the mechanics on your blade side’.”
It worked perfectly as well, as Browne went on to set two world records – in the 100m and 200m – at the World Para Championships in Qatar in 2015.
There is also a sense that the fulfilment Ginn gets from her coaching comes through her own athletics career.
“I’m constantly thinking of that because I often hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head saying ‘don’t ever give up because you don’t ever want to get to a point where it’s too late and you go what if?’,” she said.
“He always used to say that to me and now I put myself in the same position but, in a weird way, I think I don’t know if I was ever destined to be an athlete.
“I think I’m now doing what I feel I should be doing, and I like doing. I love coaching.”
And that love of a career is clearly having an impact on the lives of the people that Ginn is helping put in Motion again.
Making hopes and ambitions become a reality
Hayley Ginn works with such a diverse range of people and abilities that many stories standout.
There is the elite end with the likes of Paralympians Jonnie Peacock, Richard Browne and Laura Sugar, and then there is the grandfather playing in the garden with his grandchildren at the other.
But the story of Huw Green is one of her favourites.
He was a middle-aged builder from Nottingham, who hated running and fitness but loved paragliding.
Green had lost his leg after falling off a cliff in a paragliding accident.
He had tried various running clubs to seek help to enable him to get back paragliding, but had been considered mad to go back to the sport.
“He, through word of mouth, heard of me and would travel from Nottingham to Cambridge for a number of sessions,” said Ginn.
“I remember standing on the track in the really bad cold weather – he had a pair of shorts on – teaching him and I can remember the first time he broke into a run.
“It doesn’t look good, he will never be an athlete.
“He actually hates the running but it was that feeling when I got him to do a drill which got him to break into a jog and he said ‘yes, I can do it now’.
“Then he started to bring his paraglider down and actually showed me how to do it on the track, and that gave him the ability to go back to paragliding.
“He wasn’t running because he wanted to be a runner, he wasn’t running for fitness, he wasn’t running because he liked it.
“He had to be able to
break into some kind of half decent jog to be able to take off again and to land. I taught him to do that, and he now goes back on paragliding holidays.
“As a standout non-athletic achievement for someone I have worked with, that is one of my favourite stories.”