SHE’S only 12 but Dunbar sprinter Maria Lyle is already faster over 200m than Paralympic gold medallist Ping Liu.
Despite taking up running just two years ago, the cerebral palsy sufferer has already set a world record at 100m. And her personal best of 32.37 seconds for the 200m is inside the 32.72 seconds posted by Chinese athlete Ping, 28, to win the T35 final in London.
Maria was ruled out of this year’s Games as athletes must be at least 14 but she has already set her sights on winning gold in Rio in four years’ time.
She said: “It is a bit annoying that I could not be in London but there is always next time. It made me see that when my turn comes, I could do it and win a gold medal.”
Her parents, Susan and Raymond, and little sister Anna, 11, are right behind her every step of the way.
Susan, a PE teacher, said: “Maria used to struggle at sports which would make her quite upset. However, she just kept plodding away and suddenly seemed to develop power in her legs and started overtaking most of her peers.
“To see her running 200m now without tripping herself up is amazing. It has given her so much confidence.”
Coach Henry Gray, who coaches her at Eyemouth, added: “She is already one of the world’s best – even though she is just 12. Unfortunately, she was too young for the London Games but she could have won double gold.”
Superfast Maria set her 100m world record of 15.68 seconds at the British Junior Disability Championships in July.
That was broken by Ping who clocked 15.44 seconds in the T35 100m final in London.
Maria joined the local running club at Dunbar in 2010 and progressed so quickly she was selected for the Scottish Disability Sport National Squad last year and then invited to join the UK Athletics Talent ID Squad – the youngest athlete ever to be included.
“She has overcome her difficulties and most people don’t see anything wrong which is a credit to her because she just kept at it,” added Susan.
While her parents knew what she was capable of, they still find it hard to believe she is faster than the gold medal winner at the games.
“It’s good to know what level she can operate on but at same time you can’t help thinking that she should not be able to do that as she is only 12-years-old. It would have been nice if she could have competed in front of the home crowd but this has raised awareness of the Paralympics so hopefully in four years time there will be the same focus on it,” said Susan.
During her meteoric rise, Maria has competed all over the UK and has achieved world leading times in her T35 category. With strong local ties, Maria still competes for Dunbar Running Club, relishing the opportunity to compete in both able bodied and disabled competitions.
To date Maria has secured the following titles: British Junior Nationwide Disability Athletics Champion in 100m and 200m (July 2012); British Junior Nationwide Disability Athletics Championships “Most Outstanding Female” Award (July 2012); McCain Birmingham Games and Parallel Success Champion in 100m and 200m (July 2012); Scottish Disability Sport Junior Champion in 100m and 200m (June 2012); Scottish Disability Sport Cross Country Champion (March 2012); East Lothian Primary Schools Athletic Association Cross Country Championships -3rd Female (March 2012); Dunbar Running Club Under 13 Girls Club Champion 2011
Maria has a very bright future in disability athletics and with a proven track record has her sights firmly set on competing in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.