Gymnastics success for youngster who has overcome tough start to life

Ben O'Keefe was born 12 weeks premature with an underdeveloped heart and lungs and suffered a brain

Ben O'Keefe was born 12 weeks premature with an underdeveloped heart and lungs and suffered a brain heamorrhage. He has defied the odds and become a talented gymnast. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

When Ben O'Keefe was born at just 28 weeks, weighing under two pounds and with a bleed on the brain as well as an underdeveloped heart and lungs, doctors didn't know how he would fare as he grew up.

There was a chance that his difficult start to life would have a highly detrimental effect on his mobility and speech.

But it's safe to say that Ben has defied the odds to become a talented gymnast who, at just 11-years-old, already has the honour of saying he has represented his country.

The Gorleston youngster was inspired to take up the sport having seen members of the British gymnastics team such as Louis Smith and Max Whitlock exceed expectations at the London 2012 Olympics. His mother, Vicki, began researching local clubs and before long Ben had signed up for training at Waveney Gymnastics Club in Lowestoft.

Even at the age of six, coaches could see that Ben's talent was plentiful and he has continued to flourish as a gymnast ever since, culminating in a recent appearance at the Special Olympics GB National Games in August, where he won four gold medals and three bronzes.

'Before the competition I felt very nervous but quite excited,' said Ben.

'I'm really proud of getting gold in the floor competition because it was my first ever gold in that event. I've been working really hard with my coach, Ellen Hutchings, to practice my routine.

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'My favourite gymnastics event is probably parallel bars; what I don't really like is high bars but somehow I always get gold in that!'

Ben wasn't stopping, though, winning yet more medals at the Disability Artistic British Championships at the start of October.

His achievements are admirable by anyone's standards, but they are maximised by the hurdles he has had to overcome during his young life.

'Although there are certain things he has trouble remembering because of his disability, he somehow always remembers his routines,' said Mrs O'Keefe.

'We've seen some great progress over time and when he goes to competition I can see just how much he has developed as a gymnast.

'He'd now like to consider European and world competitions, but he knows he needs to carry on working hard in training.'

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