Eleven-year-old Scarlett Halliday is experiencing the freedom and joy of running for the first time in her life.
Scarlett, who has cerebral palsy (CP) and uses a wheelchair, tried frame running as part of a University of Queensland (UQ) study earlier this year — and now, she can't get enough of it.
The research has changed her life.
The Sunshine Coast girl discovered a passion for frame running — despite complaining of feeling unwell at the start of the trial — having never before experienced the sensation of pushing her body to its limits through vigorous exercise.
Almost 12 months later, Scarlett enjoys the sport so much that she's planning on joining the University of the Sunshine Coast Little Athletics club next year.
In the meantime, she goes frame running on the bike paths near where she lives at Aura, on the southern end of the Sunshine Coast.
"You see her face light up when she's running. You can just see how much joy she has," mum Katrina Halliday said.
While Scarlett can walk short distances and loves to dance, her mum said finding a safe sport for her had been a challenge because of balance issues.
"She'd fall over quite often so it was always a concern for us that she was going to fall and hurt herself," Ms Halliday explained.
Frame running allows Scarlett to participate in sport safely, while also improving her fitness.
Benefits for heart and lung health
The Run4HealthCP pilot study featured 12 children and young people, aged between eight and 21, who had moderate to high support needs.
The program saw participants undertake two, 60-minute frame running sessions a week for 12 weeks.
Project leader Sarah Reedman, a research fellow at the Queensland Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Research Centre, said the study had identified improvements in their heart and lung health.
"They were able to run for longer and their ability to tolerate exercise improved," Dr Reedman said.
"Their heart rate … returned to normal more quickly, which is really important because it shows the heart is healthy."
People with cerebral palsy have a three-fold increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to the general population.
Dr Reedman said children with cerebral palsy were also at a higher risk of developing respiratory infections.
Showing the benefits of exercise in children with cerebral palsy is seen as significant, given the condition is the most common physical disability in childhood.
About 600 children are diagnosed with CP in Australia every year.
Dr Reedman said the study had identified advances in the participants' quality of life, with improvements in mood highlighted after exercise.
She's in the process of expanding the trial to more than 100 children and young people with cerebral palsy after receiving a $768,000 Medical Research Future Fund grant.
'I think we'll see frame running explode'
The expanded trial will operate across six sites in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Cairns, Sydney and Perth.
Researchers are seeking children and young people with CP who have mobility issues — ranging from those who can walk, but not run, up to those who use power wheelchairs and "may not have very good ability to maintain their trunk control".
The frames are especially designed to provide high levels of support, allowing runners to use their legs in a way they may never have been able to do before.
New assessments, including bone density testing, will be added to the study, which will continue into 2025.
"Children and young people with CP do experience increased risk of what we call a low trauma fracture, which means a fracture occurring in the bone with very little trauma, unlike what you would normally see," Dr Reedman said.
"We really hope that this frame running trial will improve bone density and hopefully, that will prevent incidence of low trauma fracture."
Dr Reedman said, although frame running was much more common overseas than in Australia, she hoped that would change over time.
"With increased attention to frame running, more opportunities, more frames in Australia and more funding for people with CP and similar disabilities to get involved, I think we'll see frame running explode across this country," she said.
Frame running is already a world para-athletics sport and Dr Reedman said she hoped it would be included in the 2032 Brisbane Paralympic Games.
As for little frame runner Scarlett, her mum said competing at the Paralympics "would be an amazing goal" for her only child.
But she added she did not want to put "any pressure on her".
"We don't look too far in advance," Ms Halliday said.
"At the moment, she's just enjoying it."
Whatever the future holds for Scarlett in sport, her proud mum described the schoolgirl as "the most determined, strong willed, amazing little girl I've ever met".