A YOUNG world class sprinter and mental health champion has been named the first ever Evening Times Young Scotswoman of the Year.
Maria Lyle was already a World and Paralympic medallist and world record holder, when she added a European gold and a Commonwealth Games silver to her impressive collection last year.
The 19-year-old from Dunbar inspires many with her determination to overcome the obstacles she faces living with cerebral palsy and she has been widely praised for her courage in speaking out about her own mental health issues.
Anne Ledgerwood, general manager of event partner St Enoch Centre, said: “Maria Lyle is an inspiration, having overcome the challenges she faces living with cerebral palsy to become a world class athlete and in her work to end the stigma around mental health issues.”
Maria said: “Everyone had such strong stories, just to be nominated was incredible. This award has given me an incredible confidence boost.
“It’s great to be here tonight. Girls and women need to support each other, and show what we are made of.”
She added: “I would say to young athletes, speak out, if you are unhappy. I live by the quote “turn tragedy into triumph” and life is just about making the most of what you’ve got.”
Maria was eight years old when she ran for the first time.
“I couldn’t run at all when I was young – I found it hard to even walk,” she says.
“I was in and out of hospital a lot and I had to wear splints on my legs, which were really awkward.
“They were supposed to help stretch the muscles but I just kept tripping over them.”
“My mum was the PE teacher at our primary school, and one day, we were doing a time trial where you have to keep running over a certain distance.
“I told her I couldn’t do it, and she just said – give it a go, do your best, and that’s all you can do.”
Maria smiles: “And I did it.
“Me, who couldn’t run at all, managed to do it and that’s what got me into running.
“The more I ran, the more my muscles were strengthened and suddenly I felt like I was good at something. Running gave me a sense of belonging.”
Maria’s achievements on the track are incredible – she broke the world 100m and 200m T35 records when she was 14 and she is a multiple medal winner.
Off the track, she manages to find time to support local charities including East Lothian Special Needs Play Scheme and Support in Mind Scotland, and she has spoken out about disability and mental health.
“When I realised something wasn’t right, I sought out support,” she says.
“I was struggling because as a person with a disability, I never felt confident. I never thought I was good at anything. Now I have counselling to help with anxiety and a better balance in my life.
“But I know if I had heard someone speak about how it was affecting them, I’d have thought – that sounds like me.
“And that would have helped.
So now I want to speak up to help other people know they are not alone.”