Leanne Emmerson competing for team GB | Image credit: British Paralympic Ice Hockey Association

Champion kickboxer turns to ice hockey after leg becomes paralysed

Now diabetic Leanne is the first Welsh woman to represent GB for a world title

SPORTSWOMAN Leanne Emmerson, 38, has become the first Welsh woman to join the Great Britain para ice hockey team.

She will be heading to Thailand on Thursday to compete in the International Paralympic Committee Para Ice World Championships.

During her long sports career, Leanne was a champion kickboxer, collecting 20 world titles. 

But in 2013, her left leg was left paralysed after surgery that went wrong trying to fix a dislocated kneecap. This life-changing injury, alongside her type 1 diabetes diagnosis, changed the course of Leanne’s life.

“I went from training every day of the week to doing nothing. Competing every weekend to not doing that anymore,” says Leanne, from Ely.

“Ice hockey has helped give me that buzz back that I used to get when I was competing in kickboxing and that’s what I have missed. I have missed competing on such a high level.”

After starting para ice hockey last year, Leanne has quickly progressed, spending her time training with her home team Cardiff Huskies and travelling hundreds of miles across the UK for extra ice time.

She is dedicated to being on top form for the world championship in Thailand next Tuesday.

“Preparing for the world championship has been crazy. All of our training sessions have been mega-intense. It is a massive change in lifestyle to be able to do it. But it will all definitely be worth it in the end,” says Leanne.

“It’s been a massive buzz and that feeling of excitement will just get bigger when I get there.”

But the road to the world championship has not been easy. Leanne has had to fund her journey herself and the bills quickly pile up with the fuel, flights to competitions and the extra luggage for the para ice hockey kit.

“I think [para sports] just get left out. I have had to completely self-fund for Thailand,” says Leanne.

“Getting rostered for this was a great achievement but it’s also a case of finding the money to go. A few people aren’t going because they don’t have the money to, so lack of funding stops some people doing para sports in Wales.”

Leanne Emmerson competing for Great Britain | Image credit: British Paralympic Ice Hockey Association

Women and men compete alongside each other in the IPC World Championship. But this is the first time women have been called up to the GB team. 

So, as well as being the first Welsh woman to compete at this level, Leanne is also in the first group of women selected, longside Stacey Quirk, Jodi Hill and Dani Watts.

“Their inclusion sends a big message, not just to the other women playing the sport in the UK, but also to the wider para ice hockey community that women have a place in this sport and can compete on the world stage,” says head coach for Great Britain Para Ice Hockey, Ian Offers.

Leanne is elated to be representing Wales on the world stage again. She is hoping she can inspire others to get involved in para Ice hockey and raise awareness of para sports in Wales.

“A lot of people feel they can’t do sport because they have disabilities or illnesses but there is a lot of sport out there that people don’t know about,” says Leanne

“Para ice hockey is suitable for able-bodied as well as non-able-bodied people. Anybody can have a go.”

Leanne went from being told she would never compete in kickboxing again to adjusting to living with an insulin pump for her type 1 diabetes.

“To say that she is an inspiration would be an understatement. She is the first and only Welsh lady to represent Team GB in para ice hockey,” says Leanne’s partner Mal Johns.

“This is something that makes me very proud, and she is a role model to future young ladies coming into the sport. A true champion.”

From December 6 to 11, Team GB will compete in Pool C of the championship in Thailand against France, Armenia, Austria, Thailand and Kazakhstan. 

If they do well, they could go on to compete in a qualification tournament for the 2026 Winter Paralympics.

Team GB will be in the opening match against Armenia at 6am (GMT) on December 6.

  • You can watch the live stream on the IPC Para Ice Hockey Facebook Page.