I love binge drinking. Now granted, maybe this isn’t how one should start an article about disability sports but you’re going to have to stick with me I’m afraid, at least until I reach some semblance of a point. I’m not talking about a few casual ones here; I mean really getting stuck in. Glugging Sambuca until the room is swimming and your limbs feel like they’re on backwards. The recklessness that results when it unlocks those internal shackles and the promise in the morning you can take to texting or Facebook to share your pain with your similarly afflicted friends: The hangover. This is the point here, possibly.
Last week my IMPACT colleague Matthew Williams went along to the first day of the University of Nottingham Athletic Union’s own ‘Any Body Month’ over at Sutton Bonington Campus. Running into the office the following Monday, he was positively foaming at the mouth, eager to tell our sports team about sporting treasure trove he had enjoyed that weekend. The article he later wrote covering the day spoke of how it is something to keep oneself entertained after ‘Friday night has fizzled out into groggy nothingness’. So after a perfectly-clichéd evening and morning of frivolities at Ocean last Friday, the following afternoon I (slowly but surely) made my way down to the Jubilee Campus Sports Centre for the second day of ‘Any Body Month’ to put his words to the test, and found pleasantly enough that my man Williams was vindicated in his claims.
Launched last year, ‘Any Body Month’ or ‘ABM’ to use the shortened term is the brainchild of the University’s Disability Sport Officer, Hannah Webber. Ran with the help of the Athletic Union, it receives it’s funding from numerous sources including the University’s ‘Annual Fund’, the SU’s Disability Student Network and Sport Nottinghamshire. Recruiting coaches from sports groups and governing bodies across the region, ABM makes use of their experience and expertise to tailor sessions for their sports that smash the glass ceiling of participation and allowing anyone to participate regardless of that person’s abilities. In addition to this goal ABM also attempts to educate the University’s AU Clubs in ways to become more inclusive for students with a disability. ABM’s maiden year in 2010 yielded huge recognition from around the country, gaining a seal of approval from London 2012 for promoting Paralympic sport in the build-up to the games next year as well as a ‘Diversity in Sport Award’ from British Universities and College Sport (BUCS), who are seeking to implement the format elsewhere around the country.
Where last week guests had Tai Chi, Wheelchair Rugby and Horse Riding, on offer at Jubilee were specially-adapted sessions of Judo, Pilates, and the self-described ‘Football on wheels’: Powerchair Football. The experts plucked from around the region included a local Pilates instructor, two coaches courtesy of the British Judo Association and one of the leading figures behind the conception of Powerchair Football, Ricky Stevenson.
The Pilates session was one specially adapted from one of instructor Jackie Sysum’s own routines. Never known as a sport for the self-conscious, Jackie’s small step-by-step mat work instructions functioned perfectly at providing all with a platform to complete the full routine. Talking to others afterwards, it was clear all the participants of the session came from a wide demographic in terms of ability, giving me my first indication of the levelling ABM makes so successfully of the playing field.
Judo offered, according to its instructors, a marginally tweaked version of what newcomers would normally expect from their introductory session to the sport. Once all participants had each donned a ‘Judogi’, the traditional uniform, they were taught the basics in grappling and throwing before being put through a version of ‘British Bulldog’. Players were spread across the mats and had to make their way to the other end whilst walking on their knees, avoiding the takedowns of the Judo ‘Bulldogs’. Among the participants in this was current AU Officer David Heads, who after holding off three challengers to reach the other side, demonstrated that working in an office five days a week all year has done nothing to soften him up.
The session that left everyone talking however, was ‘Powerchair Football’. Something I would hazard to say few of the participants knew about before coming along. Each player is given a powerchair fitted with a footguard used to attack, defend, and hit a 13-inch football. The game is played on an area the size of a basketball court with each team allowed four players on the court at any one time (including the goalkeeper) and each match is decided over two 20-minute halves. The only difference the game has to conventional Association football is that there is no offside rule and limitations are placed on the number of players allowed to attack the ball and allowed to defend goals.
Coached under the watchful eye of a young man going by the name of Anthony, a former England-international turned coach at the sport, everyone was fitted with their very own powerchair and once the speeds were locked down at a nice low gear they were off for movement and dribbling training. Once they had become accustomed to the new way of how to play the beautiful game, it was then off for some brief passing and shooting training.
One of the reasons ABM has been so successful at importing these sessions to everyone has been its ability to encourage some of the top minds in their sport to come along at the weekend and put their expertise into practice. One of those on show at Jubilee was Ricky Stevenson. Ricky is chairman of the game’s national governing body, and has played a pivotal role in drafting the rules of the game as well as implementing it internationally (They had their first World Cup four years ago. England, staying true to footballing form, did not win) whilst balancing this with his job at the Nottinghamshire FA. When I asked about his feelings of watching those for whom the sport was not designed and intended for try and enjoy Powerchair Football, Ricky was delighted, saying ‘It’s fantastic so many who would not have even heard of the sport before today will be going home knowing there is another type of Football around. My hope is that should these people in the future come in contact with those who have mobility issues but want to play football they can tell them there is a way to participate and compete. It’s been a great day!’ The challenge now for the sport is to have it recognised and competed in the Paralympics. Having narrowly missed out on being added for the 2016 Games they hope to be successful in consideration for the near future. Could it be another future gold for Team GB? The chance is made all the better with passionate and enthused people like Ricky at the helm, although I couldn’t help feel envious that we didn’t have a few more men like him walking the corridors of power at FIFA.
For ABM the end result however, is ultimately what those taking part will leave thinking, and what they will tell their friends. You don’t get the recognition ABM has had by leaving people with a poorer impression though, and the key legacy it will leave is that of the smiles on every participant of all abilities who left the Jubilee Sports Centre after giving up a few hours of their time to try twists on sport many wouldn’t have thought possible, and as Ricky put it, telling others that the barriers of participation we think hold so strong are only as a real as they are in the mind. This is why as I trudged back to Lenton, quietly chomping on an aspirin, I found out of the countless positive impressions I gained at ABM one that completely overpowered was the regret that I’m in my final year here and won’t be able to see the event expand and grow to bring in more students. The last day is tomorrow at University Park Sports Centre and Pool. I’m certainly going to make the most of it, but ABM isn’t hoping I turn up, it’s hoping all of you do as well.
Images by Helen Miller
The Final Day of 2011’s ‘Any Body Month’ Will be taking place at the University Park Sports and Swimming Centre from 2-5pm. Sports on offer will be Wheelchair Tennis, Badminton and Aqua Fit. Any questions feel free to contact the University’s Disability Sports Officer Hannah Webber at [email protected]