When Layne Dixon decided to sign up for a trial running program to improve her balance and coordination three years ago, no one could imagine it would set her on a path towards a bright future in Australian athletics.
The Xcelerate program, run at Ability Centre, was being rolled out to look at the impact of running on the lives of children and young people with cerebral palsy, for Layne though it marked the beginning of a very different journey.
Layne made her national competition debut at the 2017 Australian Athletics Championship, and finished an impressive 6th in the shot put event against athletes up to four years her senior.
Layne’s efforts at the Nationals have made her more determined to keep improving at competition level and she now has a new goal in mind – the World Juniors in 2019.
What’s even more surprising about Layne’s achievement is that she came upon shot putting almost by accident after her mum Amanda decided to sign her up for the Xcelerate program being piloted by Ability Centre, Curtin University and PMH.
Xcelerate ran over 12 weeks at Ability Centre’s Coolbinia hub in 2013, with the results surprising both mother and daughter.
“Layne was heading into high school at the time and I thought an exercise program might help balance some of the pressures around that,” said mum Amanda. “We were just blown away by the change it made, both physically and emotionally. In a word it was ‘awesome’.”
Amanda credits Xcelerate with changing Layne’s approach to life.
“She walked taller, she was more confident talking to people, her speech improved because her muscles became stronger, she slept better, her school work improved. Everything about this twice-weekly running group was helping her.”
Inspired by the changes Xcelerate was making, Layne started to look around at other sports and ended up joining a running group at North Beach to work on her strength and conditioning.
It was there that a coach suggested she get her WA Athletics classification so she could compete, something that took her to HBF Stadium and an unexpected opportunity.
“We were just waiting around when Layne was asked if she wanted to have a go at one of the other athletics events and to my surprise she said shot put,” said Amanda. “She impressed the officials so much that they suggested she meet up with WA Athletics State Development Throws Coach Phil Seitz.
Initially reluctant to take on a rookie Phil agreed to a meeting, and quickly became interested after measuring Layne’s first throw.
“I could see straight away that Layne had natural talent and potential,” said Phil. As a 15 year old she also has a lot of time to grow and improve her technique and has a really positive attitude towards the work that needs to go in.”
As a para-athlete Layne is able to throw in both a standing or sitting position, but the seated option provides more support with her balance and in turn more power in her throws.
She trains weekly with Phil as well as two times a week at home. Her Grandad Mike even custom built her a competition chair so she could do as much training as possible.
In late November last year Layne took part in her first athletics competition at HBF Stadium, with the aim of getting some practise in front of crowds, but went on to surprise herself and her coach when her first throw went an impressive 2.56 metres, surpassing the qualifying distance of 2.2m required for national competition.
After a successful GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to get herself and her event chair over to Sydney for the Australian Junior Athletics Championship, the next goal was to get her competition ready.
The lead-up to Nationals wasn’t without its challenges when Layne discovered in early February that she would have to compete in the U20 age category instead of the U16 group (there was no U18 division) due to turning 16 this year.
That meant she had to re-qualify to ensure her competition dream could continue, but in true Layne style she not only qualified for shot put, but also added a javelin qualifying time to her list of national events on just her second ever throw.
The move to the older age category also meant her shotput weight had to increase from the 2kg she had been training with to a heavier and bigger 3kg just weeks out from competition, but not even that was enough to deter Layne.
“Layne had an absolute blast at the nationals and the whole experience has made her even more determined to pursue a future in athletics,” said Amanda. “We are all so excited about what’s to come.”