Why I’m taking on the London Marathon for young wheelchair users

Meet Callum, one of our 500 brilliant London Marathon runners. He shares how his training is going and why he’s doing it for Whizz Kidz

My name is Callum, and I am lucky. I’m lucky because I broke my back – lucky because I was supported by a Spinal Cord Unit. I’m lucky because I was 21 – I knew who I was, and I had time to "discover" who I was and make mistakes. I’m lucky I had a degree-level education. I’m lucky because someone took a chance on me as a volunteer, which led to my first job as a disabled person.

Why am I lucky? Because not all young wheelchair users get these opportunities.

My London Marathon journey started back in June 2022. I was due to go in for a major surgery in October, and as part of the information you get beforehand, it said that the fitter you are, the better and quicker your recovery rate. So I started going out in my chair. Getting out of the house, with a playlist on shuffle, my mind wandered…..how far could I go? The advice worked, and my recovery went brilliantly, landing me back at work quickly after my operation.

I’ve spent two years on the other side of the barriers cheering people on. I see people at mile 24 going through hell, but then there are the smiles and celebrations after they have finished. I wanted a piece of the action. My sights were set on 2026, then 2025, and then I thought, why not 2024?

I see every day the love and effort put into events to support our young people, and I couldn’t be prouder to do my bit and give back.

Callum Shakespeare, Training and Partnerships Officer, Whizz Kidz

Why for Whizz Kidz?

So why Whizz Kidz? Now, I might be biased on several fronts. I work for Whizz Kidz, but that just means I get to see the hours of dedicated work that goes into giving a proportion of the 75,000 young wheelchair users in the UK the things that they should be entitled to. Whether that is helping young wheelchair users get the right wheelchair, something I can personally attest to, impacts not just the physical ability of a person but their state of mind, their identity and their lasting mental health too. Those wheelchairs given by Whizz Kidz cost the young people and their families the grand total of nothing. Nada. Zilch. The great zero.

Whizz Kidz isn’t just about giving out wheelchairs, though. The charity also helps young people through clubs, programmes, employability support, and Wheelchair Skills Training. It partners with schools, other charities, sports clubs, and corporate organisations to give all young people the skills, confidence, and experience to thrive in a world often designed to exclude them.

This is also not to mention the Campaigns and Policy work Whizz Kidz does, all to give young wheelchair users a voice and impact the changes that they will see and inherit.

So why would I raise funds for Whizz Kidz? Better question: Why wouldn’t I? Whizz Kidz works so hard to give young people in wheelchairs access to a future that they are often denied, whether by their physical world or the attitudes around them. I see every day the love and effort put into events to support our young people, and I couldn’t be prouder to do my bit and give back.

My prep and training

Back to the marathon, and it's time to discuss how I’m preparing for this mammoth undertaking. As I said, I really started preparing about 18 months ago when I did long pushes around my local area. I gradually increased in distance: 8km became 10 to 16 and so forth, until in November 2023, I hit the 20-mile mark (32.1km).

I use the Strava App, as it has a good wheelchair mode. I also like that it gives you your “time moving” number, which means you don’t get so upset by red lights when you are training on normal streets with traffic!

In terms of equipment, my gear is pretty simple but effective! I have my trusty RGK Tiga and my basic ‘day chair’, which is nice and light and, most importantly, what I am used to! Kit-wise, I have the same basic kit as anyone else would have: shorts, base layers, and my lovely Whizz Kidz vest!

Now, on to the stuff that is a little more bespoke. I use a Zelafit chest rig for my phone, holding it on the centre of my chest. I also use Maindeck Sailing Gloves, which I have found to balance flexibility with hardiness—essential when training for and doing the marathon! I also use two iUKUS water bottle holders, designed to fit motorbike handlebars so they fit securely on the chair.

I also ensure I am suitably hydrated and nourished, with coconut water in one bottle, water in the other, and Kendal mint cake stowed away in a climbers’ chalk bag around my waist.

Despite putting in the miles in training and doing everything I can to prepare for the big day, the closer I get to it, the more I sway from nervous to confident. I’m finding comfort in friends who have run marathons or long distances. They really are supportive, either through their faith in me and encouragement or by providing practical, real-world tips. I remember when I first signed up, a friend who used to do wheelchair racing told me, “You will hit ‘the wall’, but push through it.” Strangely, that kind of thing really helps me. I need to be told these things in no uncertain terms.

I am also excited, though. I have had the experience from one side of the barriers, and now I want to feel it from the other side. I want to know what we give to our runners. I want to sit there next year cheering on the next set of Whizz Kidz runners, thinking, “I know what this gives you; you’ve got this!”

Look out for Callum and all our runners on our socials on the 21st April, or join us in 2025!