Tag Archives: paralympics

“As a disabled person, you don’t have to be an athlete to be superhuman”

Kim Daybell is a Paralympic table tennis player and is studying medicine at the University of Leeds. He represented ParalympicsGB at the London 2012 Paralympics.

We spoke to Kim about London 2012, attitudes towards disability and Channel 4’s flagship Paralympics trailer.

Competing in London has been the highlight of my career so far and it’s been amazing to see a change in attitudes towards the Paralympic Games over the last few years.

London helped break down a lot of barriers, it challenged people’s perceptions and showed the public that disability isn’t something to be scared of.

Instead of people seeing Paralympians as disabled people, we started to be viewed as athletes. I think the focus is becoming less about disability and more about seeing us for who we are and what we are achieving.

Kim, a young disabled men, competes in a table tennis tournament

Channel 4 did such a great build up and coverage of the games people were suddenly realising that we can really compete. I think shows like The Last Leg have definitely helped reduce some of the stigma too.

London’s legacy has also helped to bridge the gap between the Olympics and the Paralympics. Before 2012, Paralympians weren’t really in the public eye and we didn’t get a lot of media coverage.

Now athletes have become household names, people like Ellie Simmonds, Johnny Peacock and Richard Whitehead have become just as big as some Olympians. Paralympic athletes have been in the shadow of Olympic athletes for so long, it’s good to see that starting to change.

The games becoming more mainstream has also encouraged young disabled people to get into sport. Since London, kids are now being given more opportunities because we’ve had a lot of money put in at a grass roots level. Our squad now has a pathway program and we have someone who goes around and looks for young talent to bring in. Initiatives like this have meant we’ve seen many more disabled people playing sport.

We’re all superhumans

Recently I featured in Channel 4’s trailer for the Paralympic Games, it was a great experience and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I know there has been some controversy around the advert, specifically around the ‘superhuman’ theme. I have seen the term be interpreted in different ways, but to me it just describes disabled people who are doing things above and beyond what non-disabled people can do.

Access an audio described version of the advert.

Some people have said it comes across as a bit patronising, but I don’t see it like that. I think the people in the advert are great role models and great examples for disabled people out there.

However, that doesn’t mean that as a disabled person you have to fly a car with your feet or be an athlete to be superhuman. A superhuman achievement could be anything from completing a university degree to going shopping, it doesn’t just apply to Paralympians. To me, it represents the idea that disabled people can go out and do anything they set their mind to.

I think that’s why they chose to feature disabled people who aren’t athletes in this campaign. The superhuman concept is inclusive, it encompasses all disabled people who are doing amazing things and the advert celebrates this.

People have also questioned why the Paralympics are marketed differently to the Olympics, but I don’t see this as a negative thing. It is to be expected because they are completely different things. They’re separate sporting events and separate organisations, so it makes sense that the marketing isn’t the same.

There is nothing you cannot do

I’d encourage disabled people who are interested in sport to embrace the opportunities that are now available to them. Look online for what’s available in your area, sports clubs are now catering for disabled athletes more than ever. ParalympicsGB are always looking for talent, they’re willing to take on anyone who wants to give it everything they’ve got.

Having been on the Paralympic scene for a while now, I honestly believe there is nothing you cannot do. I’ve seen some truly amazing things, we’ve got a guy in our squad who hasn’t got hands who plays table tennis. Anything can be achieved if you set your mind to it.

You can follow Kim on his Paralympic journey on Twitter.

Find out more about ParalympicsGB on their website.

Why I’m trying every Paralympic and Olympic sport

This year, to raise funds for his charity Power2Inspire, John Willis embarked on the Road2Rio challenge. John was born without hands and without feet, but he hasn’t let that stop him from trying out every Olympic and Paralympic sport in the run up to Rio. We caught up with him in Cambridge as he tested out some newly designed paddles for his kayaking challenge, and this is what he said:

I was born without hands and without feet. The good news is that I’ve never suffered any pain or anything like that. But the difficult part is that the world is set up for people with hands and with feet. But, with some ingenuity, some design – my car is adapted – that sort of thing, I can actually do most things.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms holds an adapted tennis racket and smiles.
John demonstrating his new Tennis racket.

When I was growing up it was a much less enlightened period back in the 1960s. I was not able to participate in sport with my contemporaries, my peers. I was put in the corner. Just “there, there John – you go over there and don’t join in.” Now people are prepared to allow me to join in. So I wanted to stop that happening today and encourage everybody to be included. And surprise, surprise, wherever we’ve taken it, people have loved the idea!

Inclusive sport

Power2Inspire is a charity that helps disabled and non-disabled people do sport together. We’re passionate about doing sport – everybody doing sport. So it’s not just about disability and non-disability. It’s about everybody doing sport.

John, a disabled man with forshortened arms and legs poses for the camera on a horse.
John ready for his horseriding challenge.

The biggest challenge to inclusive sport is mental attitude. It’s thinking that people can’t be involved. It’s not thinking outside of the box; not adapting sports; not making games accessible. We use inclusive and adaptive sports in schools to show that that isn’t the case.

So this year, to raise funds for Power2Inspire, I’ve embarked on the Road2Rio challenge, which is to do all the Olympic and Paralympic sports before the end of Rio 2016. We calculated that at 34 sports, and so far I’ve done about 27 of them, which leaves me just 7 to go. They’re very varied. Some are exciting. Some are scary. And some are technologically challenging.

The scariest challenge so far has to be between diving off a three metre high spring board and riding up on a 14 hand horse, without hands and feet.

John Willis, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, waits on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool, in front of an audience of adults and children.
John waiting on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool.

Diving really taught me that it’s not only just about one’s physical limitations, I was actually mentally scared. And that had nothing to do with my disability. And that was really, really interesting.

The Paralympics

The Paralympics is inspiring. It’s exciting. I think the wheelchair basketball is way more exciting that ordinary basketball because it’s a real effort to score a basket. Wheelchair rugby is completely and utterly mad. And the track wheelchair racing is so strategic and skillful, it has to be watched.

The London Paralympics made a huge difference to the whole attitude to disability. In particular it showed people could do things rather than that they couldn’t. It showed people are superhumans. Absolutely amazing! But we’ve still got to go much further at the grassroots level. That’s what I believe. We’ve got to get a lot more disabled people who can do limited amounts, to actually realise that they too can join in with the fun of sport.

In terms of my favourite Paralympic sport to watch, I think I’m torn between the wheelchair rugby and some of the swimming events. I love the relay swimming where you have different abilities swimming against each other. So actually, they have to swim against themselves, as much as they have to swim against each other. The relay is superb.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, raises his newly adapted paddle on the River Cam.
A delighted John raises his newly adapted paddle, after successfully Kayaking on the River Cam.

I think peoples’ attitudes are different between the Olympics and Paralympics. People can relate, I suppose a bit more to the Olympians in the first instance, until they realise quite how far they’re throwing, jumping, or whatever. Then they can be inspired by the Paralympians, and see that actually it is worth getting out of bed in the morning.

Can’t wait for the Paralympics to start? Read all our Paralympic blogs.

Do the Paralympics have the power to improve attitudes to disability?

With just days before the action kicks off in Rio, we’re publishing the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016.

Our new research shows disabled people overwhelmingly believe the Games are an opportunity to change perceptions of disability.

We surveyed over 1000 disabled people and more than three quarters (78%) say the Paralympics improve attitudes and four in five (82%) say the Games change negative assumptions to disability.

We know London 2012 achieved this and more by increasing the visibility of disabled people and celebrating Paralympians as sporting equals.

So it’s been incredibly disappointing to hear reports from Rio that the Paralympics are subject to budget cuts and athletes face competing in near-empty stadiums.

We hope the organisers can address these issues and ensure the Games are a success.

What’s happening in Rio, including suggestions that money intended for the Paralympics was spent on renovations to the Olympic village, shows there’s still a long way to go in changing attitudes to disabled people.

A closer look at the polling

As a closer look at our new polling shows, the long-term positive impact of the Paralympics is far less certain. Four years on from the huge success of London 2012 disabled people continue to face negative attitudes.

Just one fifth (19%) of disabled people think Britain is a better place to be disabled than four years ago.

The stats show little or no improvement across key areas of disabled people’s everyday lives:

Text reads: 82% of disabled people believe the Paralympics make disabled people more visible in wider society
82% of disabled people believe the Paralympics make disabled people more visible in wider society
Text reads: 78% of disabled people say the Paralympics have a positive impact on attitudes to disability
78% of disabled people say the Paralympics have a positive impact on attitudes to disability
Text reads: Less than a quarter think that the accessibility of pubs, restaurants, clubs and shops has improved (23%), or transport (21%)
Less than a quarter think that the accessibility of pubs, restaurants, clubs and shops has improved (23%), or transport (21%)
Text reads: Nearly 80% of disabled people say there has been no change in the way people act towards them
Nearly 80% of disabled people say there has been no change in the way people act towards them
Text reads: Disabled people continue to face huge barriers to work with just 15% saying employer attitudes have improved since London 2012.
Disabled people continue to face huge barriers to work with just 15% saying employer attitudes have improved since London 2012.
Text reads: Just one fifth (19%) of disabled people think Britain is a better place to be disabled than four years ago
Just one fifth (19%) of disabled people think Britain is a better place to be disabled than four years ago

You can’t change attitudes in a fortnight

Through campaigns like End the Awkward, and by sending disabled role models into schools to talk about their experiences and training the next generation of disabled campaigners, we’re working to improve understanding of disability across society.

We’re working with government to ensure that the support and opportunities are available to enable disabled people to fulfil their aspirations.

To create lasting change, disabled people must be more visible in the media and in public life. Not just every four years, but all of the time. 

What it was like starring in Channel 4’s Superhumans advert

Last week Channel 4 released the new ‘Superhumans’ advert promoting the 2016 Paralympics. Guy Llewellyn, a horn player and Virgin Media employee,  starred in the ad as part of the big band. Here, he tells us the impact music has had on his life and the best bits of taking part in the filming. #YesICan

I originally trained as a professional horn player at the Royal College of Music but, after a brief freelance career, I joined one of the pioneering cable companies based in Cambridge, and have been working as an access network planner for the best part of 23 years! Although I decided that a full-time career in music wasn’t for me, I still kept playing at a professional level.

Unfortunately, in 2010, I had a bad fall at home and broke my back. The fall left me paralysed from the waist down and meant I would use a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

It was important to remain positive

Guy playing his horn on stage
Guy playing his horn on stage

At the time, it seemed like both my career in music and at Virgin Media might be over. But, with the help of friends, family and Virgin Media, I was able to find my feet again and continue to work and play.

I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to remain positive and to motivate myself to keep going and beat the doubters.

This was a key message in the Channel 4 “We’re the Superhumans” advert in which I took part.

Being one of the ‘Superhumans’

I was absolutely astounded to be asked to take part in the film, and at one stage doubted whether I was going to be able to juggle all my commitments. I also have a wife and 4 daughters to think about! However, with support from Virgin Media and my family I was able to join the band.

I knew that this was going to be once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that that I will now never forget.

Nothing had prepared me for the complexity of this project and the sheer amount of tireless work by the dedicated crew. Not only was it a huge logistical challenge, (some of my fellow musicians had come from America and New Zealand),  but the project also demanded meticulous attention to detail. This meant that the shoot days were pretty long with a fair bit of waiting around. Yet, despite the long hours, I found the whole process fascinating.

The ‘best bits’ from filming 

Guy and his band outside Abbey Road studios
Guy and the band outside Abbey Road studios

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of doing the project for me, as a musician, was the opportunity to record the soundtrack at Abbey Road Studios. Not only that, we also got to record in Studio Two, where the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper and Pink Floyd recorded ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.

Of course, there was a lot of waiting around, but just to sit in the Abbey Road canteen and soak up the atmosphere was a truly awesome experience.

Guy and the band crossing the abbey Road zebra-crossing
Guy and the band emulating the Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road album cover

Most importantly, the team work I saw unfolding in front of me on the other side of the lens was nothing more than astonishing. We were also very well looked after and, despite some of the crew sometimes working 20 hour days, everyone kept smiling, and shared a real belief in what we were trying to achieve.

The release of the advert also came at an important time. For instance, it coincided nicely with the recent Charity Week and Virgin Media’s renewed commitment to recognising and improving the workplace for all of its employees.

“Watch the advert and let it speak for itself!”Guy and the band taking part in the ad

Unfortunately, time and space constraints mean I cannot possibly describe all the amazing things that happened and all the amazing heroes I met. But if you watch the advert I am sure you will see just how important the work of Virgin Media and Scope is in making positive changes to people’s lives.

We would love to hear your thoughts on Channel 4’s Superhumans ad. What were your impressions or reactions? Tweet your response using the hashtag #Superhumans. 

“Can I teach aerobics in a wheelchair? Yes, I can!” #Superhumans #Paralympics

Kris Saunders-Stowe is one of the stars of Channel 4’s new Paralympics TV advert. As the Superhumans return to an uplifting soundtrack of Sammy Davis Jr’s Yes, I Can, Kris talks about his passion for dance and how the Paralympics show the importance of focusing on what disabled people can achieve. 

My parents always encouraged me to try new things. I loved watching Come Dancing, which was primetime Saturday night viewing back then and my aunt and uncle were competitive ballroom and Latin American dancers.

I remember visiting my aunt and she would be surrounded by bags of sequins, netting and brightly coloured feathers, busily making costumes for their next competition.

I started learning ballroom and Latin American dance when I was seven. I was hooked – progressing through all the levels to ‘gold bar’ – my teacher thought I had potential and wanted to coach me to become a professional dancer.

But sadly outside the studio things were not as positive.

My mother, proud of my achievements, sent me to school loaded with my medals and certificates, and I’d be called up on stage during assembly to share my success.

The intentions were good, but I became the odd one out. I ended up being bullied quite badly, which changed me and how I saw myself. So I gave up dance in a bid to stop it, but the bullying carried on throughout my school life.

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I’d carried on dancing. But as my health deteriorated and I lost most of the function in my legs due to a progressive degenerative condition, the idea of dancing again faded away.

Using a wheelchair it felt like I was taking back control

When I started using a wheelchair it felt like I was taking back control and regaining my independence. I became a fitness instructor and I was able to enjoy music and rhythm again through teaching aerobics. I learnt wheelchair dance and qualified as an instructor through the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association.

A few months ago, I was invited to audition for a part as a wheelchair dancer in an advert. I found out after the auditions that I’d been chosen to be part of Channel 4’s Paralympics advert, which was fantastic.Kris holding his dance partner aloft

The experience has reignited my passion for dance and opened up further opportunities to do so. I let the bullying end my dreams of dancing and when I first became disabled I felt like I ‘couldn’t’ dance, but now I can because of my disability. I met many new friends through working on the ad, there was a great mix of personalities and we share being part of something iconic.

Yes I Can

Kris-Florence3The ad for London 2012, which was created by the same director, was dynamic and punchy, conveying the passion, drive and commitment of Paralympians. This year’s will share those qualities, but it also features disabled people, not just Paralympians, doing a wider range of sports, playing music and other activities. It sends a simple message to everyone who thinks or is told they can’t do something: Yes I Can.
When I work with disabled clients as a fitness instructor, I always focus on what people can do rather than what they can’t. I believe we all have the ability to do anything we want in life. Often we can lack confidence in ourselves and so when someone tells us we can’t do something we accept they are right and never achieve our full potential. Yet if we truly believe in ourselves and are encouraged to explore we can change those ideas and perceptions.

When I began my career as a fitness instructor, I attended a course to become an aerobics instructor. The course tutor assumed that because I’m a wheelchair user I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the course criteria, she said I “should be on a special course”. It’s fair to say I proved her wrong, my main career is as an aerobics instructor and I work to challenge people’s perceptions of what disabled people can achieve. Can I teach aerobics in a wheelchair? Yes I can!

It’s human nature to pigeonhole people based on first impressions. But disability comes in so many shapes and forms, visible and invisible that no one person can be considered the same. The same is true for people who aren’t disabled. We’re all the same because we’re all uniquely different.

Kris on set of the Channel 4 advert
Kris on set of the Channel 4 advert

Too many people look at the impairment, at what they think or assume someone can’t do, rather than what they can do. One of the things I like about Channel 4’s new ad is that it shows what disabled people are capable of, not just on a Paralympian level, but as people taking part in everyday activities that lead to a healthier, enjoyable and more independent life.

What do you think of Channel 4’s Superhumans ad? Tweet your response using the hashtag #Superhumans. 

 

Natasha Coates, the gymnast who is allergic to exercise

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast. She has a condition called Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). It means that she is allergic to a long list of different things, including exercise.

For 30 Under 30, she talks about disability sport and how she manages her condition whilst doing gymnastics.

I started gymnastics when I was eight at my local leisure centre.

When I was 18 I suffered a life threatening allergic reaction. I went into anaphylactic shock completely out of the blue and we didn’t know what had triggered it. Then it happened eight times in two weeks and it’s pretty much not stopped since. I’ve probably had over 250 life threatening allergic reactions since then.

I’d been doing gymnastics for a long time and I switched to disability gymnastics at 19 because I was unable to keep up with mainstream gymnastics. Disability gymnastics gives me the opportunity to still train and compete safely.

It was difficult to go from being perfectly fine one day to having this condition the next. It happened pretty much overnight. I found it difficult to refer to myself as disabled, I didn’t really know what it meant. Doing disability sport really made me realise who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, lies in a hospital bed holding her thumb up and smiling

Adjusting to train

I’ve made a lot of adjustments to my training because of my condition. I can’t train nearly as much as I used to. I maybe do six or seven hours a week. Most gymnasts do 30.

So when I exercise I lose the feeling from my elbows down and knees down which makes it difficult to feel the equipment. So when I’m on bars I can’t actually feel my hands catching the higher bar, I can only feel the drag down if I’ve caught it. So it creates quite a few barriers, especially whilst doing gymnastics!

I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes I do think I can do everything like everybody else because I train with mainstream athletes so I try to keep up with them. I get frustrated when I can’t.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, leaps into the air during a gymnastics performance
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

The British Championships

When I competed this year I was waving at the crowd, showing everyone what I could do. I placed first on floor and I’d only started tumbling a few days before. I’d just got out of intensive care 12 weeks before that.

I came off the floor and just burst into tears. My best friend is my coach as well and she knew the lyrics to the song I’d chosen and what it represented and we were literally just sobbing into each others’ arms.

I’m not aware of the crowd when I’m performing because I’m so focused, but when I did the end I could hear the audience. I presented to everyone and people came up afterwards saying my floor was amazing and it was really nice to see the emotion. After all the work and effort that I’d put into that floor routine it was really nice for them to feel it as well.

Making way for the next generation

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime. I feel like the more I raise awareness of disability gymnastics, the more I can pave the way for the next generation.

I’d recommend anyone to try disability sport. You don’t have to be representing Great Britain, you don’t have to be good at it – if you’re enjoying it that’s all that matters.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, flips upside down during a gymnastics competition
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

Natasha joins us for a Facebook Live session at 4pm on Friday 24 June.

She is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

To find out more about Disability Gymnastics and how to get involved, visit the British Gymnastics website.

Header image courtesy of Alan Edwards

This World Music Day, record breaking pianist Nicholas McCarthy shares his incredible story

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Nicholas McCarthy is a British pianist. Born without a right hand, he was the first left-hand-only pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music in London in its 134-year history. 

As part of 30 Under 30 he chatted to us about his journey to success and talks about breaking barriers, his love of music and his advice for other young disabled artists. 

Here’s an extract from the full blog which we’ve shared on Medium, along with some of Nicholas’ music. 

I didn’t play piano until I was 14. I saw a friend of mine play a Beethoven piano sonata in assembly and I just had one of those moments where I thought “Oh my God, that’s what I’m going to do”. I had a small keyboard from years before so I got my parents to get it out of the loft and started really slowly learning. One day, my dad shouted up “Nick, turn the radio down” and it was actually me playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So I said “It’s not the radio dad, it’s me” and there was a deathly silence from downstairs. Then they said “Do you want piano lessons? You’re quite good actually love!” — and of course I said yes.

After a two years of lessons my piano music teacher said I should go to a specialist school. My friend who played that Beethoven piano sonata had been to a specialist piano school with very high standards and I really wanted to go there. I knew I needed to audition so I rang up the headmistress. I remember it like it was yesterday. She said: “To be honest I haven’t got any time to see you because I don’t know how you can possibly play scales without two hands”. Being a cocky 15-year-old at this point, I replied: “I don’t want to play scales. I want to play music” and she put the phone down on me.

In my head, that was my one chance of becoming a concert pianist and I felt completely shattered. This woman, sadly, couldn’t think outside the box and I thought “That’s it, poor me”. Reality isn’t like that, there are many paths around things. I found a different way.

That wasn’t the only barrier that Nicholas has had to overcome. Head over to Medium to read about the path that he did take, which led to his record-breaking success at the Royal College of Music and performing at the London Paralympics 2012.

To hear more from Nicholas, visit his website and his YouTube channel.

Meet Britain’s most decorated female tennis player of all time – Jordanne Whiley

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Jordanne Whiley is a Paralympian, eight time Grand Slam champion and Britain’s most decorated female tennis player of all time. She was born with osteogenesis, more commonly know as brittle bone disease.

With Rio 2016 fast approaching, Jordanne is training hard in the hopes of getting double gold. As part of 30 Under 30, she talks about how she got into tennis, role models and her other passion in life, singing.

When I was three years old, my dad took me out to Israel because he was competing in a tennis tournament. I was just going out with my mum and he was playing a match one day and I just wanted to play tennis but obviously I couldn’t. My dad’s friend gave me a racket and ball and I just started hitting it. Then it was all over Israeli news and newspapers. Basically, it all just kicked off  because I was three, in a wheelchair with my legs in plaster playing tennis.

I became professional around the time I was 16. I’d just qualified for Beijing Paralympics and I wasn’t expected to but I got the wild card. I actually qualified on my sixteenth birthday so that was a nice surprise! When I came back I quit academic studies and became a professional tennis player.

Tennis is such a great game. You have fun and the social life is great. It really helps you become comfortable with your impairment as you meet loads of different disabled people. It can really help you accept yourself.

Role Models

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have any role models to look up to. I don’t really like looking up to celebrities and people like that because I don’t know them. They could turn out to be something they’re not.

If I looked up to anyone, I’d want them to be a real person, not a celebrity. For example, I had my dad for a lot of it, he was my coach until I was 12 and both of my parents were very supportive of my career. It was kind of like just me and them for a very long time.

Some people say I’m contradicting myself because they think I’m a celebrity role model. But I don’t see myself as that. I don’t own 300 Bentleys and live in an 80 room mansion, I’m a real person. What I say and what I do is always from a real person’s point of view. I’m not interested in becoming famous, I just want to influence, help and inspire people.

Jordanne, a young disabled woman, looks determined whilst holding a tennis racket
Photo courtesy of RGK

Being comfortable in your own skin

I’m disabled and don’t look like Paris Hilton but I’m successful. It doesn’t matter who you are, what background you’re from, what shape and size you are, you can still be successful. You don’t have to look a certain way to fit into society.

Don’t dwell on things you can’t change and focus on the things you can change, like your success in your field or your attitude towards other people or yourself. I would like to help people see that.

If you listen to my story, I was bullied in school quite badly, I never grew to five foot and I don’t have nice legs. But I don’t worry about any of that because I can’t change that. When you do put that to one side and just focus on the things that matter, it’s so much better. Just focus on doing something you love. You might want to dance but you don’t think you’ve got the body to dance. If that’s what makes you happy, just go and dance. Who cares what people think?

Life outside of tennis

Monday to Friday, I train from about 10am-4pm. I get home late evening and then I’m pretty knackered to be honest! I do cook and bake a lot and if I have the time, I do grow my own vegetables. I just like doing normal, domestic stuff.

I’ve sung my whole life. There’s videos of me as a kid singing Spice Girls when I was five or six. When I was in my teens, I was obsessed with Shakira so I only used to sing her songs. As I grew up and my voice developed, it developed like Shakira’s voice! I’d really like to get into singing a bit more as I love it.

I wrote my own song about my boyfriend. For Christmas he bought me a package to go and record it professionally and put it on iTunes. It turned out a lot better than I thought it would. The song is actually really good. It’s kind of similar to Lukas Graham’s “Seven Years”. It’s not mushy, it’s about a real life relationship.

Keep a look out for Jordanne’s track on iTunes.

Jordanne is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.

To find out more about stories and how they are at the heart of everything we do at Scope, visit our new Stories hub.

Featured image courtesy of The Tennis Foundation.

The football player who is representing England in the World Cup – Chris

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Chris has spinal muscular atrophy and from a young age has been playing powerchair football. With the sport constantly changing, Chris is gearing up to represent England in the Powerchair Football World Cup next year.

As part of 30 Under 30, he tells us how the sport has changed and why people should get involved.

I’ve always been football mad.

At school I was playing on my knees in goal, driving around on the floor until my muscles deteriorated. Then I got involved in wheelchair football. I was at secondary school and my P.E. teacher heard about trials that were going on at Aston Villa at the time. I’d never heard of the sport, never seen the sport played. So I got the afternoon off school, went down and had a look. I used to play by perching on the end of my seat and kicking a ball around in the garden with my brother so it was a bit of a shock when I arrived.

Back then it was a great big football and half a car tyre strapped onto the front of the wheelchairs. I actually burst out in tears. I was like “This isn’t football. I don’t want to play this.” It was more like bumper cars than football. But my dad was there and he encouraged me to give it a go. I fell in love with it and I’ve not stopped playing since.

Chris, a young disabled man in an electric wheelchair, smiles at the camera

The sport has massively changed since I started playing

There’s a national programme, there’s two national leagues with 12 teams in each and there’s regional leagues. Back when I started there was no real backing, we played in everyday wheelchairs so it was just whatever you could ‘bodge job’ up to play. It wasn’t very professional. But now we’ve got specific chairs for the sport, specific equipment and a national league structure behind it.

Rather than the car tyre on the front of the chair, we’ve got a clip on attachment that’s a solid metal structure that you use to knock the ball around. The ball itself has gone down to half the size.

It’s given the sport a whole new lease of life. It’s quicker, it’s more enjoyable to watch. The ball gets kicked around with a lot more power so a lot of people that are watching are pretty gobsmacked when we’re smashing the ball around the court.

The game has been taken to a different level.

Representing England

My first involvement with the England team was in 2011. It’s all performance based. The coaching staff are all involved in the league so they’re just scouting the team, scouting the players. Then you get invited across for trials. And you’re just hoping to keep receiving an email saying “we’re inviting you back for the next one” and I’ve been in the squad ever since.

There’s been three World Cups now and 10 competing teams in each so far, from other counties world-wide. There’s been a qualification process to getting in the World Cup whereas before it was if you wanted to and if you’ve got the finances to do it. So now, fingers crossed, next year will be the most competitive World Cup to date. We had to qualify through a European qualifier.

It’s not a Paralympic sport yet but in 10 years’ time, I hope it will be. That will give it the bit of extra profile it needs and the professionalism it needs. It will allow people to view it as an elite sport rather than just an opportunity. Lots of people around it just see it as “oh great my son or daughter gets to play”, instead of “my son or daughter could be a gold medallist”. Fingers crossed that happens.

Two disabled men in electric wheelchairs play a wheelchair football match

I would recommend it to anyone

At matches people can expect a lot of excitement. You get plenty of action. It’s kind of one of those sports that you have to see it to understand what it’s all about.

Fingers crossed, as it grows and we can open it up more to the general public, people will take a genuine interest and, fingers crossed, watch England win a World Cup.

I’ve always been quite a competitive person, so it gives me that opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Having the opportunity to grow as an athlete, being able to play in the World Cup and travel the world playing football, it’s been great. I would recommend it to anyone.

Chris is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We’ll be releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

To find out more about powerchair football, visit the Wheelchair Football Association’s website.

Meet the only female climber competing with one arm – Sianagh, the paraclimber

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Sianagh Gallagher is a para-climber who climbs and competes for Great Britain. She was born without her left arm and shoulder but never let that hold her back. When she tried climbing, aged 10, she loved it and she’s gone on to win many national and international competitions.

As part of 30 Under 30, Sianagh shares her story and talks about attitudes, her passion for climbing and being inspired. We are also posting more photos of Sianagh in action on Instagram: @scopecharity.

I’ve been climbing for about 9 years now. When I was 10 my primary school started a climbing club. I said no at first because I thought climbing would be a bit out of my league, but they forced me to go, and I loved it.

At first it was quite daunting because climbing is such a unique sport and being a little kid – I was scared! But the first climb I did I got to the top, which was a huge achievement for me personally. I did it regularly after that. The high school I went to is attached to the gym where I climb, so I could get in for free every day after school.

I’ve had to develop my own style of climbing

For non-disabled people the rule is always have three points of contact on the wall, so obviously that doesn’t apply to me! It’s been quite good developing my own unique style. It’s taken a couple of years to really perfect it. At first I didn’t have a clue about climbing, I didn’t know the rules and regulations or how to climb as a good climber, but over the years I’ve developed my own technique and really got into it.

I’ve also learnt from climbing with friends. Then I’d look at people like Shauna Coxsey, who’s the world’s best boulderer, and she’s a huge inspiration. I’d look at other professional climbers to see how they climbed and when you climb with friends, you always compete to be better than them. It gets really fun!

Sianagh on the climbing wall, turning to smile at the camera

Negative attitudes just make me more determined

Once when I was in year 8 or 9, there were 6 of us climbing with an instructor. You’re only allowed 6 people at one time so when a seventh person came we were like “Sorry, it’s busy, you can’t come in now”. Then they turned to me and said “Well she’s not going to do anything. She’s only got one arm. She can’t climb.” That was kind of an eye opener for me because I thought “Well, actually I can and I’m going to prove you very wrong.” It made me more determined to carry on.

Some people can be quite negative and quite closed-minded but those people don’t come around often. And when they do you’ve kind of just got to feel sorry for them because if they’re going out of their way to put other people down, they’re living quite a sad life really.

Then there’s the subtle kind of people who don’t necessarily mean to be mean, but they just don’t think outside the box. They just assume that disabled people don’t really do much with their lives. Often people are like “Wow, I was so impressed, when I saw you walking here I didn’t think you’d be able to do it.” And I’m like “Oh, thanks.”

When you’re around someone with a negative attitude it makes you a bit depressed, but when you’re around someone with a positive attitude, you want to be more like them. You want to look at life with life with as little negativity as possible.

The first time I competed I came first

The first competition I ever went to was in 2010. It was the first competition for disabled people that was ever run in the UK. My teacher from secondary school took me and I came first, which was huge. I thought “Wow, I can really get serious about this.”

I’ve done so many competitions since then. As the years went on the competitions became more serious and we developed a team for Great Britain. You have to go to these British competitions and try out for the team. I was too young the first time I tried, then the second time I tried I made the team. I think that was one of my biggest ever achievements. It was so amazing. It means that now I’ve got the opportunity to go to international competitions. Two years ago, I did the World Championships and came third. That was incredible – the first World Championships I’d been to and I made the podium.

I’m good friends with all the international climbers and chat to them on Facebook. Even though they’re your competitors. Then you meet people who have the same disability as you and it’s a massive learning curve because they might be able to climb higher than you so you know where to set your own standards.

Sianagh scaling the indoor climbing wall

We’re waiting to find out if climbing will be in the Paralympics 2020

Paraclimbing isn’t a Paralympic sport yet but we find out in August if we’ve been accepted into the Paralympics 2020. For the public, I think it would be amazing for them to be able to watch climbing and for it to get a lot of publicity. It’s such a huge sport but the highest you can go is the World Championships. It would be great to give it a step up and allow athletes to really train for something huge and get recognised like the should be, for doing such an amazing sport.

I always watch the Paralympics when it’s on. It’s such a big thing for disabled people to prove themselves, even if they don’t feel they should have to. People do generally have low expectations of disabled people and don’t know what they’re capable of. So when they go out there and they’re as good as, or sometimes better than, non-disabled people, it’s really inspiring for everyone. I get really inspired by other disabled athletes. If I see other athletes that are just so motivated and upbeat about the sport it makes me want to try harder.

What I love about climbing

Climbing is so unique. When you go to a climbing wall there’s always something different try. There’s always different routes, there’s always harder stuff and there’s always area for improvement. You can never be at your best, you can always work on little things and improve to become the best you want to be.

I teach kids how to climb and I really enjoy doing that. I think it’s nice for them to have a disabled person teaching them. At first you kind of get the stare, and they don’t know whether to ask or not, and then they do and they’re like “Why are you born with one arm?” and I’m like “Why are you born with two?” and they go “Oh yeah” and then they leave it and just act normally.

In the future, if climbing gets into the Paralympics I’d like to compete in that. If not, I’d like to be first in the World Championships. I think that would be amazing.

Sianagh standing in front of the climbing wall smiling

 Paving the way for others

There are only a few para-climbers with only one arm, especially people like me who don’t have shoulders. A lot of people have stumps with they can use when they’re climbing. There’s a guy who’s the same as me, but no female climbers yet.

It’s still crazy thinking that people might be inspired by me. I just climb because I love it. When people look at you as an inspiration you think “What have I really done to deserve it?” but it’s a good feeling.

Sianagh is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We’ll be releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

If you want to find out more about Sianagh and keep up to date with her climbing adventures, visit her Facebook page.