Considering getting into a disability sport? Either as a participant or in a supporting role? As the profile of disability sport continues to rise in the wake of the Tokyo Paralympics, Wellspect gathers three inspirational women from the front lines of contemporary and competitive para sports, to share their unique sights, for the benefit of aspiring Paralympians and anyone wanting to get involved and enjoy the benefits of sport.
The roundtable panel
Sophie Carrigill is a professional wheelchair basketball player, world and European Silver medalist and two-time British Paralympian.
At just 19 Evie Toombes is already a seasoned Para Rider and has been voted Horse & Hound’s amateur rider of the decade.
Bev Collins is Wellspect’s clinical lead nurse and has been a key member of the ParalympicsGB nursing team at both the Rio and Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Interest in parasports has never been higher as access to disability sports continue to improve at a grassroots level.
Whether you’re a budding Paralympian or are just looking to get active, taking part in a sport can have a profound effect on your health and mood.
How did you get involved with Disability Sport?
Evie Toombes: I was born with a form of spina bifida, which is essentially a fatty mass on my spinal cord. So, I had spinal surgery at 18 months old when it was finally diagnosed, and then began catheterising, when I was three years old, which was obviously a huge challenge for my parents at the time.
From very early on, they wanted to get me into a hobby or sport, something that could kind of give my life a bit of balance. They were very aware that my life would be very medical in a lot of ways, and we would have to spend time in hospital. So, they were very conscious of trying to give my life a bit of balance and normality. That was pretty much how I fell into horses in show jumping and the love of the sport.
Sophie Carrigill: I was in a car accident when I was 16. So hence, my life pretty much completely changed. To that day, I grew up able-bodied and absolutely loved sport. Played everything imaginable and was driving my parents mad going to every after-school club possible. After my accident, sport was very obviously missing from my life. I wanted to get back into it really and that’s where I found Wheelchair Basketball. That's obviously what I play and started out there at the Leeds Spiders. It was 10 minutes from my house, which was great because it was just local.
I was terrible to begin with, really, really bad. I just persevered though. That whole going from sport running and able-bodied to then learning how to push a chair and move about in a chair as well as all those like ball skills as well. It was a bit overwhelming to start with, but I kept going because I'm pretty stubborn. I was enjoying it as well, don't get me wrong. I loved it, and I loved the challenge.
Bev Collins: I got involved with wheelchair rugby back in 2007. I started helping out as a carer for the team because there were all different care needs involved. I was very fortunate in that I was able to go to the London 2012 Paralympic Games with the team. Afterwards, I got involved with para archery. I'm very much involved with the British Paralympic Association as a whole, providing care and support for core sports really. So, if somebody had an issue then I would be called upon to either go to the home of the sport or to the individual athlete’s home to provide whatever was required. I went to Brazil in 2016 with ParalympicsGB and Tokyo 2020 as the lead nurse for the preparation camp.
My background in nursing has always been around the bladder and bowel care. But when you work with sports, it's general nursing, and that can involve anything from a dressing of an ingrown toenail that needs putting a plaster on to somebody who does need assistance with bladder and bowel care.
Speaker Profile: Sophie Carrigill
Sophie is a British Wheelchair Basketball player. She has represented her country in 4 Senior European Championships, 2 Senior World Championships and two Paralympic Games – winning a silver medal at the 2018 worlds championships. Her leadership extends beyond sport, Sophie is also a passionate advocate for disabled women, inclusion and women in sport.
I think initially when you first start a sport it's all about enjoying something, doing something that you love.
Maybe not even love but just that you have fun whilst doing it, doing something that feels good.
What are the benefits of getting into a sport?
Sophie: I think initially when you first start a sport it's all about enjoying something, doing something that you love. Maybe not even love but just that you have fun whilst doing it, doing something that feels good. I think exercise itself is just so important for your mental health as well as, as well as being physically fit and active. Especially for people with disabilities, it’s important to have the opportunity to do something that feels good, moving your body in a way that you feel comfortable with.
I like to think that wheelchair basketball is really inclusive, and it allows for a very vast array of disabilities to be involved in the sport. So, I think that's really positive as well that you get to interact with people who are like-minded, who have maybe gone through something similar to you or can understand your barriers that you face day to day. With those like-minded people, you get a sense of community.
I like to think that wheelchair basketball is really inclusive, and it allows for a very vast array of disabilities to be involved in the sport.
Then if you go to the elite end of sport and you are pursuing a dream of playing for your country, for me that is all about competitiveness. The drive to be the best that you can be, as athletes we're always constantly trying to be the best that we can be. That's another great reason to get involved in a sport is if you've got that competitive edge, and you want to better yourself and doing it within a sporting environment is great.
Evie: I think everything starts with just wanting to try it. I mentor a lot of younger children with spinal cord injuries and one of the big things that come up is that they just presumed that they can't. I tell them that you don't need to go straight into the top level. Let's start by going for a 10-minute cycle in the morning and make that first step. I think one of the things that are really important is to make things relatable. Although it's incredible to have people that inspire you that are at the top of their game, to have it in a relatable way the easier it feels to try, the more likely people are to try it.
I think everything starts with just wanting to try it.
I think that goes for anything, emotionally, if something's easy, you're more likely to try it aren't you. I think there are benefits to your mental health as well as physical health because both play hand in hand. When you're able to get a bit more movement into yourself - people can't really help their health – but it gives you a different dynamic to life.
You can just leave your health at the door and go and have an hour playing your sport.
You can just leave your health at the door, and go and have an hour playing your sport or doing something else like seeing friends. It gets you out of the house, out of a place where your headspace might not be very good. Chances are, when the hour is over, you are so much fresher and ready to then go and fight again. The benefits of it I can't quite explain to people but those that know, completely know.
I think there are benefits to your mental health as well in physical health because both kind of play hand in hand.
Bev: Physical activity is so good for our general overall health. Becoming involved at a club or with a team will enable friendships to be developed and feeling part of a team is a really positive thing, even when in an individual sport. There are so many opportunities within disability sport that can prove beneficial in so many ways; both physically in terms of fitness but also mentally in terms of health and wellbeing. Not everyone will compete for their Country but the enjoyment of taking part is for everyone.
Summary: How and why to get involved with disability sport
The following are some of the key points shared by our panel in the part of the discussion:
- Local clubs are a great place to get started with a sport, not only will you get coaching and support but also an opportunity to surround yourself with a community of like-minded people.
- The biggest step is the first, don't presume that you can't!
- Any kind of physical activity offers huge benefits for your general health and fitness
- From the perspective of mental health, taking part in a sport can have a big impact on your health and well-being.
If you are interested in competing in your chosen sport then lookout for the next part of our coverage of the roundtable discussion. Sophie, Evie and Bev will explore their first experiences in representing their country and what it takes to move to the next level in a sport.
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