Hannah Johnston attends the World Ability Sport Conference

In this monthly update, we caught up with new doctoral researcher Hannah Johnston, as she attended the World Ability Sport Conference in October 2023.

At the end of October, the Peter Harrison Centre supported doctoral researcher Hannah Johnston in attending the first ever World Ability Sport Conference, held in Edinburgh. The conference focused on Physical Activity for Health for People with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and other Neurological Conditions, and saw researchers and practitioners travel from across the world (many from Australia!) to share their knowledge on how exercise can support the vitality of individuals with CP.

Hannah presented a research poster on the ‘Effect of heated garments on performance of para-athletes with Cerebral Palsy’ which she completed last year during her MSc placement as a performance physiologist for Loughborough Athletics. Hannah said: “I really valued the questions from conference attendees which sparked discussion on how we can best support the performance of para-athletes. It seems the effect of temperature is indeed a big consideration in athletes with CP”.

Hannah’s PhD investigates the Physiological considerations of para-athletes with Cerebral palsy, and such paucity of research into trained athletes with CP. The relevance of her research area meant she was able to meet two of the leading researchers in this area. Dr Phoebe Runciman of Stellenbosch University presented a fantastic keynote on ‘The impairment-injury-performance paradox in athletes with brain disorders’ which delved into the relationship between the fatigue profiles and pacing strategies of athletes with CP and their low injury incidence during the Paralympic Games. Dr Jennifer Fleeton, from the University of Sydney, presented part of her doctoral research on maximal strength training in para-athletes with CP. She provided strong evidence that athletes with CP are able to develop strength adaptations in a similar timeframe to non-disabled athletes, thus proposing the optimal parameters to enhance performance in this population. 

In addition to the innovative research, Hannah said she was captivated by multiple presentations from previous or current para athletes. Most notably, Stephen Miller MBE PLY shared his truly moving journey as a three-time Paralympic Champion, six-time Paralympic medalist, and World Record breaking F32 club thrower. Hannah also learned how to play boccia. She said: “ We were given specific scenarios, for example I had to play with my eyes closed, which enabled us to better appreciate the importance of making practical adaptations to ensure the needs of the individual are met.”

Overall, Hannah found the conference valuable for her PhD studies: “I can confidently say I left the World Ability Sport Conference very inspired by the efforts being made to enhance the health, opportunities, and performance of individuals with CP from those who are just beginning to become more active, to those aiming for elite competition. It felt incredibly special to be surrounded by many experts and individuals with a similar passion to mine, and I am excited to contribute further knowledge and investigate the fundamental considerations regarding Cerebral Palsy and sporting performance over the next three years.”

Well done Hannah, we can’t wait to see how your research progresses!