Para athletics explained - Seated throws

Great Britain’s Paralympic, world and European champion Jo Butterfield explains what seated throwing involves. 16 May 2017
Podium with three women in wheelchairs

Joanna Butterfield of Great Britain poses with her gold, Rachael Morrison of USA silver and Becky Richter of Canada bronze at the medal ceremony for the women's club throw F51 at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships.

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Great Britain’s Paralympic, world and European F51 champion Jo Butterfield competes in both the club throw and discus events, where Para athletes are required to use a chair or frame.

Butterfield, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2011 after an operation to remove a tumour on her spine, explains just what seated throwing involves in May’s edition of ‘Para athletics explained.’ What are the most common ways to throw from a frame?

Joe Butterfield (JB): There are three main ways – front on, sideways or over the head. What you are trying to do is get the longest lever; the longest range of movement. It’s about using what you’ve got. You can throw it any way you want – I think the best way would be to try and chuck it overarm but there is no way I’d be able to do that as I don’t have triceps.

For cerebral palsy athletes the longest range of movement is going from the feet, over the head, high. So they often throw it backwards. I can’t sit up that way as I have no abdominal muscles. Without using my hands to push me up, there is no way I could sit up. My longest range of movement is sideways across, low to high.

How does the frame work?

JB: They are all individual to you so it is what you like or what you need. I don’t have any core, so I need a back rest. My chair was made-to-measure and designed for me, done to the specifications of the rules that exist – you can be so high, and so wide. I need sides too otherwise I’d fall out and I need a pole, which is what I attach my hand to.

What do you use the pole for – as a lever, or to stop yourself from falling?

JB: A bit of both – originally it really was balance, to hold myself up there. But as my biceps work I’m now trying to work on initiating the throw with a pull from the bar.

Do you use the same frame everywhere?

JB: I have three – one in Loughborough for when I train there; one in Glasgow where I live and one in Grangemouth as that’s where my coach is. If I travel overseas I take one with me. They travel well – they are made of aluminium, so are quite light, and they have wheels at the back so they are easier to transport.

How important is it to replicate the same set-up wherever you go?

JB: It’s massively important. If I had to throw out of something else I’d be completely lost because you get so used to it – where the pole is, at exactly the right length for my reach; the height of the backrest so that I’m comfortable and supported yet I can swing my arm. If I was to sit in a frame that didn’t measure to me then I’d probably be all over the place.

You are strapped in when you throw, how does it feel?

JB: My first competition was the 2014 European Championships and I did out of my day chair – I didn’t have a frame built yet. That was a good way in for me as it felt more normal. Moving from that to a frame in 2015 scared the living daylights out of me. Suddenly I’m on this perch where I feel very vulnerable. But I had all winter to practise and a good transition period to prepare for Doha.

The frames are tall, with long, slim legs; they are often lightweight. Yet you sit there and put your whole body weight behind a throw. How do you deal with this?

JB: There is a lot of trust. Thankfully it’s not something that I dwell on because I think if you get it in to your head that you are going to fall then you would pull out of every throw. Fortunately, I feel sturdy in my frame. It’s solid; it doesn’t move.

In seated throws, athletes often group their throws together rather than take each individual throw alternately. How much of an advantage is it to go first or last?

JB: There are pros and cons. If you’re first then you can do your warm-up and you know exactly when you’ll start. If you’re last it’s a bit like ‘I have no idea if I’ll be sat here half an hour or three hours.’ So it’s difficult to mentally prepare. But you’ve seen what everyone has done and you know where you’re at.