A Harrogate student born with the same disability as three-time Paralympic sailing champion Hannah Stodel, will look to make waves at the 2013 International 2.4 Metre Class World Championship in Dorset in September.
St Aidan’s and St John Fisher’s associated sixth form student, Isabella Walsh, 17, will go head-to-head with 80 athletes from 12 nations at The Poole Yacht Club between September 10-13 in what is one of the most unique events on the international sailing calendar.
Although the 2.4mR is arguably best known in Britain for being the Paralympic single-handed boat, internationally the class is predominantly sailed by able-bodied athletes, and the unique pitting of able-bodied and disabled sailors against one another on a level playing field that gives this event its global appeal.
With the 2013 Worlds event tagline ‘Where everyone is equal’, some of the world’s top Paralympians, including the British Sailing Team’s London 2012 2.4mR champion, Helena Lucas, and Rio 2016 hopeful, Megan Pascoe, will be in action in Poole alongside the current able-bodied World Champion, Peter Andersson from Sweden.
Bella, who was born without a left hand, learned to sail after attending a Paralympic Potential Day in Sheffield in November 2010, where she met RYA Paralympic Development Coach, Matt Grier.
Just seven months later and she was making her event debut in the 2.4mR class at the 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, racing alongside the world’s top Paralympians on the London 2012 sailing regatta waters of Weymouth and Portland.
Bella, who lives in Seacroft, Leeds, has combined her sailing with studying for A-levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics, French and English Literature, as well as an EPQ in the physics of sailing, at St Aidan’s and St John Fisher’s associated sixth form.
But after that she has her sights set on following in the footsteps of two-time Paralympic sailing World champion, Stodel, to whom Bella is known as ‘Mini Me’.
Bella said: “Like me Hannah was born with only one hand and she has been an inspiration to me since I started sailing.
“Ever since I first met her at 2011 Sail for Gold Regatta she has referred to me as her ‘mini me’.
“Most recently we sailed together with three other girls in a Sonar keelboat at Cowes Week, where we finished in third, and Mini Me was the nickname on the back of one of my team t-shirts!
“The 2.4mR has both hand and foot steering and so I mostly use the foot steering when sailing upwind so my hand is free to pull in ropes.
“I love that at all the open meetings we attend disabled and able-bodied sailors sail alongside each other on a level playing field. I have made so many good friends since I started racing 2.4mRs, it’s like having a second family.
Typically 25-30 percent of an International 2.4mR Worlds fleet is classified with a range in type and severity of disability. However, the boat’s design – a stable keelboat which has the fingertip feel of a dinghy and is insensitive to sailor size - means every competing athlete, regardless of ability, age or gender, has just as much chance of claiming the top Worlds prize.
For more details about the 2013 International 2.4mR Class World Championships visit www.24mworlds2013.co.uk or follow @24mRWorlds2013 on Twitter.