Rolleston teenager’s Paralympic dream

by Kent Caddick

Fundraising is underway to help a teenage Rolleston girl achieve her goal of competing as a swimmer at the Paralympics.

Thirteen-year-old Ella Benn was first diagnosed with Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in October 2013. A few months later, at the age of 10, Ella chose to undergo a rotationplasty, which involved an amputation of a portion of the leg.

Several months of chemotherapy followed and in addition, she has been battling tumours in her lungs, which has resulted in surgery on two occasions and a trial treatment of immunotherapy.

A keen sportsperson, Ella started swimming at Canterbury Swim School in Yaldhurst a few months after her amputation. She had previously been a talented runner and was representing Canterbury at the Cross Country Championships in Nelson, when the problems with her leg first began. Ella found she greatly enjoyed swimming, and moreover, that she had a talent for it.

She then became a competitive swimmer with the Waitaha Swim Club, based at the swim school.
Ella’s ambition is to get to the Paralympics and she has already been selected as a member of the Paralympic Potential squad, and has had the opportunity of training with her Paralympic idol, Sophie Pascoe.

To reach that goal Ella needs a prosthetic ‘water leg’ to help her train as well as enjoy a number of other water related sports she loves, like waterskiing and kneeboarding.

To help raise the money for the water leg, which costs about $3000, and to fund ongoing costs such as scans, which Ella requires regularly, Ricardo Felitti, a swim tutor at Canterbury Swim School, is fundraising by running the Paris Marathon on April 8.

Ricardo said he is so inspired by Ella with her positive outlook and courage, that he wants to do as much as he can to help her.

This is only the second marathon Ricardo has ever done and he said he knows it will be a challenge.
“At around the 35km mark my muscles will be screaming for me to stop, however it will be nothing compared to what Ella has had to go through.

“If she can go through all that and still be so happy and smiling, I can run a marathon,” he said.
Ella’s mother, Sandi Benn, said a water leg will not only allow Ella to do things like waterskiing and kneeboarding, but will also give her the independence to do things most teenagers take for granted, such as going on the hydroslides at Hanmer Springs.

“Without a water leg Ella used to go down the slide, but couldn’t get back around and up the stairs again,” Sandi said.

“We had to keep going backwards and forwards to help her.”
She said despite all the treatments and setbacks she has had, Ella continues to remain positive and cheerful throughout.

“At the times Ella is unable to train due to ongoing treatment she is usually poolside supporting and encouraging her team-mates.”

A Give A Little page has been set up as Ricardo runs for Ella at