The way I see it, disability sports are still on the fringes of the sporting world. London 2012 provoked a huge development and funding drive directed at talented athletes working their way onto the world stage and beyond. At the time it was hoped that this would result in a similar growth in grassroots sports and recreation, but still, it remains a real challenge for disabled individuals to find ways of being active. Why?
I was lucky in my youth, I had parents who were able and willing to let me try things, clocking up miles around the country travelling to different clubs and initiatives. I can only imagine their despair when I chose to pursue Para Dressage, a sport that required me to lug not only myself but half-a-ton of extra muscle around with me.
After a few years working my way up the ladder of elite sport I still find myself wondering why everything is still such a struggle. From finding an appropriate coach, training proactively to finding the right equipment, there are so many barriers in place. In my opinion you shouldn’t have to be living, breathing and bathing in sport in order to enjoy it. We should be encouraging disabled kids to be active for their health and for fun, not because they might medal in a future Paralympics. This mindset is damaging and discouraging and totally missing the point! I believe that this contributes greatly towards the lack of activity among disabled adults. According to Sport England’s 2018 Survey, disabled adults are twice as likely as non-disabled adults to be physically inactive, this is something I’d like to change.
I found RaceRunning, now Frame Running, in late 2019 and it introduced me to the world of ‘recreation’. Ironically, for the first time in my life I wasn’t chasing anything, I was enjoying activity for the same reasons that everybody else did, because it was fun and made me feel good.
In finding this I began to understand why those with extra challenges struggle to enjoy recreational sport. There needs to be more emphasis on the ownership, the exploration and the freedom. I can take my Running Frame (his name is Rex) almost anywhere, I view him the same way I view my wheelchair, he’s a gateway to independence a tool I can use to explore and enjoy the world away from the confines of everyday life. Sure I still enjoy racing, it gives me the thrill and adrenaline that only competition can give but now I’m simply doing it because I want to, no distinct end goal in sight.
I truly believe that this is the key to breaking down those aforementioned barriers, empowering people with knowledge and equipment and then letting them play, away from the programs and the therapies, the practitioners and the professionals. Exploring your abilities with no clinical eye, there is so much power in play, exploration, adventure, whatever you want to call it.
Through my work at Quest I’d like to give this opportunity to others, for them to experience those same feelings of enjoyment and freedom for themselves. It’s the addictive nature of movement, of achievement and adventure that stays with a person for life. Keeping them healthy in body and soul and enriching their lives.