‘He deals with so many challenges in his life’

Tom Murley, his twin brother Ellis and their mum Ruth and dad Mike. Picture: Mick Young (132647-03)
Tom Murley, his twin brother Ellis and their mum Ruth and dad Mike. Picture: Mick Young (132647-03)
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David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

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On the wheelchair basketball court, Tom Murley takes the sort of knocks that would make any parent gasp.

In this daring sport, Tom’s chair might be tipped over three times in a game, making it hard for mum Ruth to watch the fast-paced action.

But the teenager always manages to pick himself up with strong arms and plenty of grit and determination.

In life Tom, who has cerebral palsy, lives with a lot of pain and can only walk a few steps, has had plenty of knocks and setbacks too.

But again the 17-year-old has managed to pick himself up with the sort of spirit and tenacity he displays on the court.

That’s why Tom is a huge inspiration to others and has been named Locks Heath 2013 Young Sporting Hero.

The teenager was put forward for the award by his twin brother, Ellis, who says in his nomination: ‘Tom’s main sporting passions are wheelchair basketball and skiing.

‘Not only does he love participating in these sports, he is always one of the first people to encourage, motivate and support others in them.’

‘He deals with so many challenges in his daily life that would be unthinkable to most of us. He never complains about his disability or makes it an excuse for not being able to do something, despite being in constant pain.’

The twins have always been extremely close, despite the usual childhood squabbles – and the fact that Ellis used to run away with Tom’s toys.

That is, reveals Ruth, until the day when they were about three and Tom managed to get hold of him and give him a good swipe.

But they have always been there for each other, which is why Tom is more delighted about the nomination than the award.

‘I was amazed when they said Ellis had nominated me,’ he says. ‘That was the best bit of it, because what he wrote was really nice.’

Tom hasn’t earned the award through determination alone.

He shows a good measure of talent on the court, has played in U19 teams for both South East England and South of England, as well as local teams Hampshire Harriers and Hampshire Hornets, and is well able to cope with the rough and tumble of the game.

‘It’s pretty aggressive. Technically it’s a non-contact sport, but you’re trained as if it is because you’re smashed around quite a bit. Mum didn’t watch it for ages.’

But he explains that lifting the chair back up by pushing with his arms isn’t a problem.

‘My arms are a lot stronger than most people’s because I’m using them a lot more. I can’t get out of bed without lifting the whole of my body with my arms.’

Tom was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was a year old. He and Ellis had been born prematurely and Ruth and their dad Mike thought they wouldn’t survive.

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain and affects the nervous system.

Tom suffers from painful cramping and can only walk a few steps. He has better use of his arms but can only write a few sentences.

But he has constantly defied doctors’ expectations, firstly by walking and learning to swim.

Ruth was told that Tom wouldn’t swim a stroke. But he was given lessons anyway and named Fareham Leisure Centre’s Achiever of the Year 2001. At nine Tom received his 200 metre badge.

He explains: ‘I don’t use my legs and use each part of my body independently. I have to really think about it. I’ve practiced a lot and learned to do it in a different way. That’s the same for just about everything I do.’

He also mastered skiing at the dry slope in Southampton after joining Solent Ski Club for the Disabled.

Tom started off using specialist equipment, but with the help of a very inspiring coach he managed to ski with regular equipment and even race able-bodied youngsters in competitions.

A skiing holiday in Bulgaria with his family provided him with magical memories.

‘I felt no different from anyone else. It’s so weird to think that skiing was the leveller.’

But then an operation left Tom in terrible pain and after being out of action for eight months, his muscles were so weak doctors thought he would never walk again.

But with typical tenacity and the help of physiotherapists he made sure that didn’t happen.

‘I was just being generally stubborn. When I heard about that I set about crazy trying to walk.’

But skiing was out of the question and Tom decided to have a go at wheelchair basketball.

Tom found it really difficult at first but practised every day, going up and down his road in Locks Heath dribbling a ball and eventually succeeding in regional team trials.

Now he’s also taking to the slopes again, mastering the sport of sit skiing.

Ruth and Mike are incredibly proud of their sons, who are both studying for A levels at Peter Symonds College in Winchester and are on specialist programmes for the talented – Tom in sport and Ellis, who has played for the National Youth Orchestra, in music.

Tom enjoys life but faces a daily battle.

‘He plays it down but he is in constant pain,’ says Ruth.

Despite that, he continues to impress and inspire others.

‘Tom does not see himself as special,’ says Ellis in the nomination. ‘He just wants to be like everyone else. But what he doesn’t realise is that so many people want to be like him, once they have met him.’


Wheelchair basketball was first played in the United States in 1945 when basketball players injured during the Second World War adapted the game.

At the same time, Sir Ludwig Guttmann developed a similar sport, wheelchair netball, at the spinal rehabilitation hospital in Stoke Mandeville.

In 1955 the touring Pan Am Jets team brought wheelchair basketball to England when they took part in the first international competition at Stoke Mandeville.

The sport was introduced on the global stage at the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games.

Men and women play in teams of five and the measurements of the court and height of the baskets are the same as basketball.


When he’s playing, Tom uses a chair especially designed for wheelchair basketball.

This was provided by the Variety Club of Great Britain.

The children’s charity provides specialist equipment through its grants programmes and helps to create memorable childhood experiences.

Variety supports promising young athletes and recreational sports clubs.

Many organisations and groups use Variety Sunshine Coaches.

These give children and young people up to the age of 19 easier access to a range of activities.

The organisation also supports youth clubs, provides grants and wheelchairs and organises days out.

For more information about the charity visit variety.org.uk