Disability not standing in the way of James Guthrie-Croft's Olympic dream

The high school student hasn’t let dyspraxia slow him down.

By Steve Landells
When sprinter James Guthrie-Croft stood at the start line of the 100m race to represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas earlier this year, there were no prouder spectators than his parents Pauline and Thomas.
Standing at 1.88m tall, the young athlete is one of our most exciting teenage sprint talents, who hopes to one day represent New Zealand at the Olympic Games.
Yet few people realise the 17-year-old St Peter’s College student has defied dyspraxia – a neuro-developmental disorder that causes difficulties in coordination and movement – to thrive on the sporting stage thanks to a combination of his tenacious nature and his parents’ whole-hearted support.
Born three months into the new millennium, James is the only child of the Auckland couple. After several heart-breaking miscarriages, Pauline had all but given up hope of having a child, but she miraculously became pregnant, aged 41.
James was born five weeks premature but his mum, a flight attendant with Air New Zealand, was elated.
“We were so grateful to have him,” says Pauline.To his mother, James was a normal baby, yet with the benefit of hindsight, there were early clues as to his condition.
Proudly wearing his country’s colours in his Youth Commonwealth Games kit. Left: With his proud mum Pauline.
“I didn’t realise James not crawling may have been a sign,” admits Pauline (57). “I used to think it was great because I used to put him down as a baby and he’d still be there. He started walking at 12 months, but missed the crawling stage altogether.”
However, it was shortly after he started attending Ellerslie School when dyspraxia was diagnosed after a teacher saw “something in James’ gait” and recommended he be evaluated at Starship children’s hospital. The realisation their son had the condition came as a huge shock to his parents.
“At the time, I had no idea what dyspraxia was,” confesses Pauline.
“James was picked up by the moderate learning needs team and given some exercises to do. But that was short-lived as I realised we, as parents, needed to step up.”
Schoolwork was a struggle – “trying to teach James to read was like he spoke Italian and I spoke English” – so the young student was given additional tutoring and worked with an occupational therapist.
His parents also encouraged James to play sport to improve his movement. From the age of five, he had a tennis racquet in his hand and, later on, a soccer ball at his feet. Through his own fierce determination, James’ devotion to sport has changed his life.
“At first, Thomas used to throw a ball at James and it would just hit him on the head,” explains Pauline.
“We used to spend hours practising with him. James would do things other kids wouldn’t do. He’d be happy hitting a tennis ball against a wall for a couple of hours. He’d shoot at the basketball hoop for an hour, doing things over and over.”
He soon started to excel at sport and found his true calling when, as a year nine student, he won the 100m at the Auckland Championships running barefoot.
Keen to explore his sprinting potential, James, who has starred on the wing for his school’s under-15 rugby team, joined Papatoetoe Athletics Club. Under the patient guidance of coach Juan Whippy, he has made huge gains.
In 2015, he secured the 100m, 200m and long jump titles at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Timaru to announce himself as a star in the making, but the road to success has not been easy.
The athlete won a silver medal for the 200m at the North Island Secondary School Championships.
James has to work a little harder than most to master both sprint technique and drills because of his condition. What the teenager lacks in initial understanding, he more than makes up for in pure sprint ability and sheer hard work.
Pauline has been blown away by her son’s commitment, who trains six days a week.
“After training, he goes upstairs and completes another little workout. He’ll do 50 press-ups and a whole circuit session,” she reveals.
Earlier this year, he blitzed the competition to gain the national under-18 100m and 200m titles before recording a 100m personal best of 10.83 and a second place at the Australian Championships.
He also won a spot at the Commonwealth Youth Games, where he reached the semi-finals of the 100m and 200m.
Competing at the Commonwealth Youth Games.
With a long-term goal of one day competing at the Olympic Games, James has proved anything is possible.
“I’m very proud,” says Pauline. “He deserves it. He may have dyspraxia, but he is so determined and just wants to be the best sprinter he can be.”
So what advice would Pauline give to other parents who have a child with dyspraxia?
“Find something your child is good at,” she tells.
“I used to worry when he couldn’t pick up a knife and fork or tie a shoelace when he was eight. Thank goodness for sport. That’s what changed everything. It has filled James with confidence and given him good social skills.”

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