By Nathalie Bonney

MEET the one-armed rock climber taking her competition by storm

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Videographer / director: Alexander James Miller
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Nick Johnson
Editor: Sonia Estal, Kyle Waters

Sianagh, with her mum Jade, is the only climber with one arm competing in Europe

Born with no collarbone, shoulder blade or left arm, Sianagh Gallagher hasn’t let her disability hold her back.

The 19-year-old, from York, is not only one of the youngest members in Great Britain’s Paraclimbing Team, she is also its captain.

Scaling heights of 23m and travelling to Austria, Italy, France and Spain to compete, last year Sianagh won her first gold medal, coming number one overall in the British competition series.

Climbing to the top: Sianagh was made captain of Team GB when she was 16
Working hard: Sianagh trains five times a week

Sianagh, who first joined Team GB aged just 16, is the only paraclimber in Europe with one arm and has used her disability to prove doubters wrong. 

She said: “Growing up with my disability never really held me back from doing anything. If anything I was more determined to get things done and prove myself to people.

“You should always stay positive and you should never let yourself believe that you are any worse because you’ve got a disability.”

Her mum Jade, 41, says watching her daughter climb is one of her most rewarding experiences.

“I’m never really nervous watching her – just always immensely proud.

At the top: Jade climbs walls up to 100ft high

“It makes you feel very humble – you think I’m never going to complain about anything again.”

During labour, Jade lost the water in her womb early, almost killing Sianagh - who only weighed 2lb 11. It also meant the scan pictures were unclear, therefore not revealing her disability.

She recalled: “When I was told there was a chance she wasn’t actually going to make it through the night, it was almost irrelevant that she only had one arm.”

But Sianagh was a fighter and beat the odds of survival, despite her lungs collapsing two weeks later. 

Sianagh took to climbing very naturally

Survivor Sianagh continued to be in and out of hospital in the early years of her life as her feet were also twisted round so the soles were facing up.

And when she was eight, doctors discovered a dislocated knee and twisted pelvis.  

Sianagh’s leg had to be broken and twisted round before metal plates were inserted to fix her pelvis. She then had to undergo more surgery for her knees. 

But as a child, Jade always ensured her daughter was treated the same as everyone else.

She said: “I refused to wrap her in cotton wool. I knew that one day she would have to be self-sufficient and live on her own so I would only step in and help her with things if she was really struggling, but apart from that it’s as normal for Sianagh to have one arm as it is for others to have two.

Gold medal: Last year, Sianagh finished first in the British competition series
Growing up: Mum Jade didn't treat Sianagh differently as a child

“I was worried she might be bullied, but she went through infant and secondary school and, apart from maybe the odd comment, she wasn’t bullied at all.”

Sianagh said: “Growing up with only one arm did have its challenges – I realised I wasn’t quite the same as everyone else.  I would get the odd comment, but if I did, I felt sorry for the person. If you feel the need to pick on somebody just because they’re different it doesn’t say much about you as a person.”

Simple tasks such as tying her shoelaces, buttering toast and peeling an egg took Sianagh longer to master than most. But that wasn’t the case with climbing, which she took to instantly at just 10 years old.

She said: “It was the first time I’d been really good at a sport. Usually when I got asked if I wanted to do something sport based, I got a bit worried that I might not be able to do it and make a fool of myself, but with climbing I just kind of decided to go for it.”

Now, the climber enjoys longboarding and is a talented artist. She is also planning to go to Bournemouth University to do a sports psychology degree. 

Active: The teenager also enjoys longboarding and drawing
Siangah's dream is to compete in the Paralympics

But the busy teen admits her hobbies have taken over her other parts of her life, including a chance of romance.

She said: “I find it quite hard to stay social and meet people because of the amount of time I put into climbing, but eventually I’d like to meet someone who’s understanding and just accepts me for I am.

“The biggest thing for me is my friends and family have always treated me like a normal person. I think that is all I could ask for.”

Now training five times a week, as well as working at her local climbing wall, Sianagh’s passion for climbing shows no signs of stopping.

Sianagh says that her disability made her more determined to prove people wrong

The teen is hoping the sport will be reintroduced to the Paralympics in 2020 and has her sights set firmly on competing in Tokyo.

“To compete in the next Paralympics would be crazy. It would mean a lot just to be there. It’s hard to think about it because I just get so excited at the possibility even.”

“I’ve come to realise that I’m the same as everyone else – the only difference is I am missing a limb.”