Thornbury athlete meets idol after learning they were both born with heart defects

July 05 2018
Thumbnail Image

A promising young athlete from Thornbury has met Olympic and World Champion runner Roger Black.

The two have more than just athletics in common - both were born with congenital heart disease, but have defied the odds to pursue their dreams.

Luke Ball, 13, who trains with Yate & District Athletic Club, is one of the leading UK under-15 athletes in high jump, and last season was ranked in the UK’s top 3 in his age group in four different athletic events.   

He met his athletics hero in support of the British Heart Foundation’s Face a Fear campaign, which encourages people to be fearless and conquer their biggest fear by the end of July to raise money for the charity’s life saving research.

The pair shared stories of their triumphs on the track, compared medals and how they overcame hurdles on the road to success. Luke left feeling even more motivated to follow in Roger’s footsteps, after Roger’s advice on how to succeed as a professional athlete.

Roger, 52, and Luke were both born with congenital heart disease, where a heart condition or a defect develops in the womb.  Every day, 12 babies are diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and it can be potentially life-threatening.

Luke was born with Transposition of the Great Arteries, where the arteries are plumbed the wrong way round and was operated on at just 12 weeks old. Roger was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition when he was 11 after it caused one of his heart valves to leak, and couldn’t take part in competitive sport until he was 13. Roger’s condition was closely monitored and he only ever missed one of his annual hospital appointments to go to the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, where he went on to win a silver medal.

Luke said: “Even though I have a heart condition I don’t see myself as any different to any of my athletic competitors and I’m just as determined to be successful. I take advice from my doctors at my annual heart check-ups and, although I may have to have further surgery in the future, I don’t let this hold me back. It was awesome to meet a track legend like Roger and to see his Olympic medal. I hope one day I will have one myself.” 

Roger said: “It was fantastic to meet a fearless young athlete like Luke. I’ve never let my heart condition hold me back and it’s great to see that he isn’t either. I’m proud to be a British Heart Foundation Ambassador and their research helps people like Luke and myself lead a fit and healthy life, ultimately enabling us to pursue our dreams to become athletes.”