Cycling sensation Ella Curtis cannot wait to set Berlin’s iconic 17 June Strasse alight this summer.
Ella, 20, is part of the Special Olympics Great Britain squad heading to the Special Olympics in the German capital between June 17-25, where she will compete in the 500m and 1km time trials.
The Bradford-born athlete earned bronze in Abu Dhabi four years ago aged just 16 but has her sights set on gold after switching from three wheels to two over lockdown.
“I will be brave, have fun, try my best, and show everyone my skills,” said Ella, who has Down Syndrome and was speaking ahead of World Down Syndrome Day on Tuesday 21 March.
“I am so excited for Berlin.”
Special Olympics GB uses sport to empower children and adults with an intellectual disability and enhance their health and wellbeing.
Ella began cycling in 2015 under the tutelage of dad Tim, who is a qualified coach and quickly showed aptitude for life in the saddle.
As a member of Special Olympics Yorkshire and the Summat Creative group in Bradford, qualification for national and then international events quickly followed for Ella before a bronze medal on the world stage in 2019.
Yet for Tim, who is now head coach of the Great British team heading to Berlin, the prize is not only what medal daughter Ella may or may not win, but also the very fact she is competing in the first place.
“When Ella was born, it was a shock to us all and we would never have expected her to do some of the things that she has done,” he revealed. “She surprises us every day.
“Most parents don’t get a chance to witness their children represent their country on the world stage - I was lucky enough to do it once before and now I am getting a second chance to do it while also being her coach. I am looking forward to her putting that race face on.
“It’s not always easy, Ella doesn’t always want to do the cycling training, such as when it is a bit rainy but that’s the same with every coach and athlete, you always have down days.
"As long as everyone has fun, makes friends, and does their best – that’s my ambition."
That sense of the wider picture ahead of Berlin is at the forefront of Tim’s mind, with the 50-year-old hopeful that the Special Olympics will see development in the same way the Paralympics has blossomed in recent years.
“I feel we are on a journey somewhere that the Paralympics went on until really the Sydney Games and the London Games. It feels to me that we are on the cusp of getting somewhere like that.
“Ever since we got involved, every time we have been able to profile Ella or one of our other athletes it has got more and more people to take part. It’s a chance to reach out to people.
“People come to our cycling club because they have seen Ella, and if you can’t see, you can’t be, and Ella is that for a lot of people.”
At the heart of the Curtis’ journey is the relationship between Ella and Tim, who double up as coach and athlete as well as dad and daughter.
𝙁𝙧𝙤𝙢 3️⃣ 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙨 𝙩𝙤 2️⃣— Special Olympics GB (@SOGreatBritain) March 21, 2023
Today we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day with an inspiring story about Special Olympics Yorkshire athlete Ella.
Ella will represent #TeamSOGB at @SOWG_Berlin2023 on 2 wheels.
📝 https://t.co/YJtQD2wKzC#WDSD2023 |#InclusionInAction pic.twitter.com/fFXPptorHT
“It is remarkable, looking back on when she was born I didn’t even know what Down Syndrome was,” admitted Tim. “I wasn’t sure if Ella would be able to do any of the things I considered typical. “Because of Ella we have all in our family been on an incredible journey; We have a greater understanding of what having a learning difficulty means.
“Then to top it off with your child being able to perform at a really high level on a world stage, that’s an amazing thing. I am so proud of her.”
The pair have been on quite the journey since turning up at Bradford Disability Cycling Club eight years ago.
After taking bronze in Abu Dhabi, Ella worked through lockdown to switch from a three-wheeled trike onto two wheels in order to compete in Berlin.
And now the pair travel to Germany in June for what could be the high point of their story so far.
“Germany and Berlin are the most incredible places,” said Tim. “They are so friendly; their sense of humour is amazing.
“They have really got behind the Special Olympics. We are racing on the 17 June Strasse which is one of the main drags and finishing at the Brandenburg Gate.
“They are shutting down the road to allow athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete.
“We are going to fill the Olympic Stadium with athletes from all over the world, it is quite an amazing once in a lifetime historic experience.”
Special Olympics GB is the UK’s largest provider of year-round sports training and competition for children and adults of all abilities with intellectual disabilities. More than 6,500 athletes are currently registered and are participating at one of the 95 accredited programmes within Scotland, England and Wales, which are delivered by a devoted team of around 3,500 volunteers.