Wheelchair racing coach wins prestigious England Athletics award

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Athletics coach, Howard Darbon wins prestigious England Athletics award
Howard Darbon

A dedicated athletics coach from Bedford has won a prestigious award at the Athletics Eastern Region Volunteer Awards held in Bury St Edmunds on 18th November.

Howard Darbon, who has been front and centre of wheelchair racing at Bedford International Athletics Stadium, was nominated by the parent of a member at the athletics club and received a number of commendations from athletes, parents and fellow coaches.

Howard’s coaching journey was inspired by the London 2012 Paralympic Games when Howard managed 14 Paralympic teams from around the world in Bedford for four weeks prior to the Games.

He was so impressed by the abilities, the inspiration of the athletes and the pure joy they demonstrated when taking part in sport, that he determined to ensure that Bedford offered sport to those with physical disabilities.

That journey began in 2018, and five years on, Bedford Athletics Club now boasts three excellent coaches in Zoe Luscombe, Michael Blunt and Sharmila Harman who coach fifteen disabled athletes in the sport, nine of which are regular young athletes.

Howard has also been at the forefront of monumental fundraising efforts, with over £30,000 raised in order to purchase the expensive equipment that is needed, all with the help of local rotary clubs and the Eileen Alexander Legacy Fund.

Varun Bandi has already enjoyed a successful youth career under Howard’s tutelage Image: Bedford Athletics Club

Two of those racers, Varun Bandi and Sean Chigumba, have been selected for the England Athletics Talent Development Programme for potential Paralympians. 

Varun and Sean have also topped the national 2023 ranking lists in their respective age groups and classifications for four track events, with two other club members, Katie Connolly and Hugo Cracknell also in the top three on the lists for age and classification.

All of this has occurred due to Howard’s dedication in bringing wheelchair racing to life in Bedford.

“It has been an amazing journey in just five years and a great credit to the athletes, their coaches and very supportive parents. 

“I just hope that we can continue to develop and ensure that other disabled young people in particular can be as successful as those currently members of Bedford Wheelchair Racing”, said Howard in typically modest form.