Janice Eaglesham MBE, pioneering athletics coach

Born: September 13, 1958;

Died: July 21, 2019

Janice Eaglesham MBE, who died suddenly aged 60, was one of the most influential individuals in disability sport in Scotland, along with her husband Ian Mirfin.

Janice, who initially planned to become a PE teacher but did not feel cut out for it, became involved in disability sport in 1983.

Over the years she tirelessly worked to change attitudes and to change lives: a passionate athletics coach who fought hard for the inclusion of disabled people within sport.

Her involvement with Scottish Disability Sport started in 1985 and she was part of the organising committee for the Association’s Silver Jubilee celebration events in 1987.

In 1990, partially-sighted athlete Sam Howie was interested in finding out how he could get involved with athletics at a competitive level.

He was put in touch with Janice, who together with Ian began to organise training sessions after realising no club or local authority offered this kind of support anywhere in Scotland.

In December 1990, the Red Star Athletics Club was born, the first club of its kind for athletes with a disability.

From the first informal meetings with just a handful of athletes, grew an organisation recognised as the leading club in the UK for athletes with a disability, which boasts impressive Roll of Honour, including Paralympic and World championship medallists.

An experienced and knowledgeable coach, Janice trained a number of athletes at performance level and gave up a huge amount of her free time to take athletes from grassroots involvement to Paralympic participation.

Equally important to her was encouraging of people to get active and participate in sport as a lifelong hobby. She was compassionate, motivational, enthusiastic, self-effacing and funny.

In 2011, Janice and Ian were awarded the BBC Sports Unsung Hero gong at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, for their contribution to sport, joining the country’s sporting elite at a glittering ceremony in Salford.

Janice was typically modest about the achievement, but appreciated the award as recognition for the work of everyone involved, saying: “For every one person who gets an award like this, there are hundreds of others – coaches and helpers – who turn up week in, week out.”

In 2014, she was appointed chair of Scottish Disability Sport (SDS), leading the association through the development of its current strategic plan. She was involved in all aspects of SDS life and delivered education and training courses across Scotland.

Gavin Macleod, CEO of Scottish Disability Sport, said: “Janice was one of the most influential people in disability sport over the last 30 years.

“She touched individual people’s lives, but was influential at all levels. Her legacy will be far reaching.”

Janice was active at both a national and international level, opening up access to coaching and competition to hundreds of disabled athletes over the years and acting as team manager and head coach to Scottish squads competing on the world and European stage.

She was heavily involved in RaceRunning, in which athletes use a running bike, consisting of a three-wheeled frame, with a saddle and body support but no pedals, and promoting it as a competitive sport.

In 2016 the work of Janice and Ian was further recognised when they were both awarded MBEs in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in recognition of their services to disability sport.

Janice was also board member and vice-chair of the UK Sports Association for People with a Learning Disability and was active on working groups with both Scottish and UK Athletics.

Tracey McCillen, chief executive of the UK Sports Association for People with a Learning Disability, said she was an “athletics coach, mentor, educator and guide”.

She added: “Quietly, without presumption, or expectation of acknowledgement, she did it all because she loved it.”

Janice is survived by Ian, to whom she was married for 33 years.