It’s Saturday morning, Friday night has fizzled out into groggy nothingness as has the ability of students of Nottingham University to find something to do over the weekend bar sport, shopping and the prospect of visiting Trent SU, with the latter certainly indicating these are indeed desperate times. But I say students that there is something this month for you to do every weekend until the end of March!
Any Body Month is an event that is fun and free and the sessions can be taken part in by any-body. It is an event inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and promotes many values; friendship, respect, equality and awareness. I found this out very quickly as I hopped of the bus at Sutton Bonington and headed for the Sport Centre on the campus. The events this week were horse riding, Tai Chi and wheelchair rugby, two of which I was fortunate enough to participate in.
Participating in new sports is always a challenge, an interesting a tough one and ‘ABM’ proved that whatever the students capability practice and dedication is needed for every sport, be it the flexibility and concentration required to do Tai Chi or the stamina and strength to do wheelchair rugby.
Tai Chi was the first sport I participated in but before that I managed to interview the teacher and veteran of Tai Chi, Ken Twist on his views on Any Body Month. It was, like me, his first time experiencing the Any Body Month event and as he sat their munching away at his sandwich he spoke of how events such as these promote the right principles and its “inclusive” nature that allowed people to work at their sport “within their own scope and ability”:
“I think it is important to encourage people to take up things they’ve never tried before whatever their capabilities A new test is always good for you. The social aspect of Any Body Month is equally important as sport brings people together whatever their background and whatever their abilities as they form a team bond and an important fellowship with one another”
Two of his dedicated students, Vishaya and Angelica, who have been doing Tai Chi since September described Any Body Month as “very inclusive and very international” and that events such as these should be constantly promoted to raise awareness of disabled sportsman and that anything is possible.
The first sport promoted was Tai Chi, an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defence training and its health benefits. It is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: the hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, and longevity. In this session from 2:00-3:30 Ken promoted health, relaxation and energy which are vital to the art that is Tai Chi. We learnt the 1st form of Tai Chi in the session after a long preparation and stretching exercises that are required to perform the Sport effectively. It is an extremely good technique for relaxing and easing tension in the whole body, a particularly valuable attributes needed for students when the exams loom large. Now for me it was difficult at first to get into and my inflexibility and poor balance at times proved how much practice, concentration and relaxation is required to perfect yourself in Tai Chi as a few embarrassing moments were caught on camera of etched concentration, wobbles and many a near fall backwards. It was a fun and interesting experience that I highly valued and which I do recommend to anyone who finds exams extremely stressful. It’s like a mixture of yoga and self-defence in truth. However if I and the other students who participated in Ken Twist’s class chose to learn Tai Chi in swift motion it would be a very handy and new technique for baffling bouncers and clobbering drunken brutes in Crisis, Oceana and such like. Woe unto the drunken fools in the clubs of Nottingham who dare to challenge Ken Twists’ students who (including myself) possess the skills to perform the 1st form of 24 in Tai Chi.
The next sport I had a chance to briefly participate in was Wheelchair Rugby, where I was given to opportunity to have a chat with Neville or ‘Big Nev’ as he is often called. The Wheelchair Rugby was being promoted to students and disabled students by Neville who is currently aiming to make the Wheelchairs Rugby squad that will head for next year’s Olympics and I managed to find some time to interview him before Any Body Month started. Neville was injured badly in a hit and run a number of years ago, and Wheelchair Rugby certainly seems to have played a large part in changing his life since then…
How long did it take you to realise that you had potential to go so far in this sport?
“It all started off as doing the sport for fun, getting fit and meeting people. You got various chances to meet up with people with all the different teams who were turning up week in week out and eventually the constant sporting led me to be advised and invited to join the elite squads for Wheelchair rugby. It wasn’t an instant click mind you, it took me two years to become serious in the sport and since then I have been playing Wheelchair rugby for nine years and I haven’t looked back. It has been a really important aspect in my life since the accident occurred.”
What do you find the most important aspects of Any Body Month?
“Any Body Month is a really big thing it is very important in raising awareness; that there are sports available to people with disabilities and people who often doubt their capabilities in sport. It is equally important in that it is a stepping on which we can push out to general public and because it is being promoted by the 2012 Olympics it means attention is more focused on the Paralympics as much as the Olympics. Any Body Month puts it on the radar, we are not just a little section in the back of the newspaper or that twenty second clip and the end of the news on TV. Value is promoted and with the Paralympics looming it is good to see how Channel 4 is leading the way to cover the Paralympics and I think they will do a fantastic job.”
Who was your inspiration?
“Everyone I have met since the accident have been extremely helpful, kind and supportive, particularly Rob Tarr, he captained the GB Wheelchair rugby team at the Paralympics and has one three gold medals. He was my first mentor and we are both very similar guys, good friends and through him I have learnt a lot about myself within the sport itself and outside the sport, to persevere. I’m still learning, people are still helping me and I am determined to keep up rebuilding my life after the accident.”
What are your personal ambitions?
“Getting a gold medal at the Olympics is what drives me at the moment and fighting to get into the main squad. Obviously I have individual goals but it is equally important that the team wins. I want the team to win, it very important for us to go to the Paralympics with pride, we are very much a good team and have a great bond. The bond is almost family!”
What new sports would you recommend to those who wish to try out Any Body Month?
“Try them all and see which one you like the most. You don’t get many chances like this to try and diverse array of sports! If you find one that you like stick to it and improve on sport through the foundations provided by Any Body Month.”
If you could summarise Any Body Month in three words what words would they be?
“Family, Awareness and Enjoyment.”
It was a privilege to spend time with a dogged character like Neville and we should all wish him good luck in his fight to get into the final squad for the Paralympics, one he deserves more than most.
Wheelchair Rugby was on the cards and I came to find it was swift, unforgiving, but incredibly fun and had the perfect learning curve. The game I participated in was a pulsating one and end to end stuff as the greens were defeated by the blues in rather comprehensive fashion 9-4. I do admit I did probably weaken our chances of winning with my amateurish style of play. It was difficult for me to adjust to using a wheelchair and found it rather painful on the fingers at times, twice flying into a wall due to poor handling of my wheels. High levels of fitness are required, reducing many to huffs and puffs and slightly red faced after a mere seven minutes of play. Moment of a rather disappointing performance was scoring a point for my team though as capitalised on a good throw by Neville, one that I celebrated with yet another drive right into the wall, but on the whole I still enjoyed the experience especially when you can crash into anyone when you want to tackle them leaving them shaking for a good few seconds. Wheelchair rugby summed up? You need good fitness, strength and agility!
Overall after I left, I left a more aware and inspired person. It was a really good day of sport for me and meeting a lot of new people was a really good experience, one I cannot recommend highly enough. Any Body Month is immensely important as an event not just in raising awareness that there are opportunities for people with disabilities to continue doing sports they love, but for inspiring people to do new things. That is the whole University experience surely? We meet new people, we try new things and we take the initiative to do something new and that is increasingly important as soon me may run out of chances to have a crack at something new otherwise we may look on some poor choices as ones that smacked of missed opportunities. As Any Body Month says “Sport is for everyone, no matter what your ability!” Try it! Go to the next events on Saturday 19th on Jubilee Campus and Saturday 26th March at University Park Sports Centre, don’t sit around the halls waiting for things to happen!