Plenty of us will have been inspired by the fantastic achievements of ParalympicsGB in Tokyo. While it’s true to say that they are supreme athletes, it’s also a fact that they all started their sporting journeys somewhere…
Just like other elite sportspeople, Paralympians show the best of human strength, speed and agility. They strive for years to get to a level that most people can only admire from a distance. That said, that’s not entirely what sport is really about.
Let’s remember that sport is ‘played’ and that play is a form of enjoyment. Alright, so people are bound to want to emulate elite performance; who wouldn’t want to have some kind of amazing strength or skill? Even so, what gets people hooked on sport, is a love of participation, the feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction of just going for it!
Entry level or grassroots sporting opportunities can give disabled people a chance to have fun and get fitter all at the same time – which in turn creates healthy outcomes. It’s almost like eating green vegetables that taste like popcorn!
Nicola Fowler is an amateur athlete who has found sport a great way to improve her physical and mental health…
One of Nicola’s mottos is: “If you fall down, the best thing to do is to try to pick yourself back up again”. Nicola is from Yorkshire and is an enthusiastic member of the Bridlington Road Runners club. She has seen first-hand, the benefits of physical activity for people with cerebral palsy.
Nicola first took part in gymnastics and rugby at a young age before being inspired by a ‘Discover Your Gold’ UK Sport advert to get active again as an adult. She chose to do this through running, first just a mile or two on her own, before stepping out with her sister to a local parkrun where she discovered Bridlington Road Runners. Ever since, Nicola’s love for running has just grown and grown.
“Just go and have a try, what’s the worst that can happen?” She advises, adding: “You might go running and find it great, you might not. You might try football or swimming or something else.“
Nicola hasn’t looked back since joining the Road Runners, thriving in the welcoming, all-ability environment which
it promotes. But perhaps more importantly, has been the feeling which running has given Nicola. Not only has it helped her get fitter but running has also given her a whole range of mental and emotional benefits, from helping her confidence to taking her away from her struggles and providing a feeling of accomplishment.
Through lockdown, Nicola struggled to keep her mind occupied but running and the Road Runners’ many online events, from virtual relays to ‘Beat the Mile’ challenges provided peace of mind before she was able to re-join her clubmates in person from April.
She said: “I do struggle with my mental health sometimes and obviously like everyone I’ve had my down moments this year, and it’s really helped me. I’ve just thought ‘I’ve got to get out there’ even if it’s just a mile to clear my head.
It’s made me feel fitter physically but mentally it’s just done so much for me, especially in the past year.”
Along the way, Nicola has documented her running journey through her blog: Paranicruns. The blog expresses her love for sport and running in particular but also has another very important purpose: to show others that the benefits of sport can be accessed by anyone.
“My blog is here to show that the ordinary person can do something,” Nicola said. “It isn’t about winning medals, which is great, it’s about the ordinary person getting lots of benefits out of it.
When I was little there weren’t many people to aspire to (be like) and it’s great to see all these people winning Olympic and Paralympic medals but also other people do it for different reasons, like mental health.
This is in stark contrast to when I was a child. We had Tanni (Grey-Thompson) and David Weir and that was about it and the thing was, they were in wheelchairs – I’m not in a wheelchair.
I decided I wanted to tell people of my generation that it’s not too late. And also the mums and dads of the younger ones should have the opportunity to inspire people.”
And to anyone inspired by this summer’s Paralympics in Tokyo who is now thinking about taking up running, Nicola’s message is simple. “Just try it,” she said. “Don’t worry about times. Just enjoy the scenery and the social aspect, like I have!”
Visit Nicola’s blog at: www.paranicruns.wordpress.com
Bridlington Road Runners: www.bridlingtonrr.co.uk
Here are just a few of the organisations that provide grassroots participation opportunities for disabled people…
CP Sport are a national disability sport organisation and charity. They encourage people with cerebral palsy to live more active lives by promoting the opportunity, capability and motivation involved in taking part in sport and physical activities as well as providing a range of support services.
They also have a useful club finder: www.cpsport.org/club-finder
Football Your Way
England Football, The Football Association’s new home for participation and the grassroots game, recently launched Football Your Way, a new campaign to help disabled footballers’ return to the sport.
The campaign provides a new online information hub to help support and motivate disabled people to feel confident and empowered to take part in football-based activities. Whether that’s at home or in a local park, the campaign encourages preparation for a return to the court or pitch for players, whenever they feel ready to do so, now that Covid restrictions are easing.
Information is available regarding para disability football as well as versions of the game for blind and partially sighted players, amputees and people that use frames and powerchairs.
Parasport has been developed by ParalympicsGB in partnership with Toyota as a club finder website useful for searching among inclusive local opportunities. It currently hosts more than 3,000 club profiles.
The ambition is to be the UK’s biggest community for players, parents and coaches to share their experiences of para sport, and find useful hints, tips and information on what’s happening near you. This includes in depth listings and all the information you need to connect to local inclusive opportunities.
Club profiles can be searched by postcode or distance from your home or by activity – as well as listing opportunities that accommodate a mix of disabled and able bodied people or purely for disabled people.
Power2Inspire run a programme of inclusive sports opportunities from festivals of inclusive sports and inspirational talks.
LTA Wheelchair Tennis Initiative
The LTA Wheelchair Tennis Initiative aims to attract, inspire and engage people with physical impairments into the sport through a series of taster days that include activities to cater for every skill level.
Following each event, the LTA will direct each participant towards opportunities to continue playing that are most appropriate for their skill level. These could be local venues offering recreational wheelchair tennis activity through the LTA Open Court programme, or centres delivering elite training as part of the LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway.
All sessions are free to take part in and delivered by experienced LTA Performance Wheelchair Tennis coaches. All equipment, including sports wheelchairs, tennis rackets and balls will be provided on the days.
Search ‘LTA wheelchair talent initiative days via: www.lta.org.uk