When someone has suffered a life changing injury, their ability to exercise and participate in sport like they used to may seem impossible. It will be different, for sure, but it is possible.
Being active is incredibly important to us all, able-bodied or disabled: not only does it ensure that our bodies are in good health and condition, but the role it plays in our mental health should not be underestimated. There has been a great deal of research into how exercising helps sleep and symptoms of anxiety, as well as providing a way of coping with feelings of depression and boosting self-esteem.
Our clients of all ages often recount hobbies they had before their accident and these often include exercise. Returning to sport may seem like too great a mountain to climb but there are opportunities available. People may not be able to return to the same sport or activity but the competitive spirit that they no doubt demonstrated during their recovery, can be unleashed in the sports arena, allowing them to benefit from the sense of achievement and endorphin rush that sport brings.
GB wheelchair basketball player, Sophie Carrigill, found this herself after being involved in a serious car crash aged 16. Sophie had been very sporty, playing tennis, netball and hockey, but the near-fatal accident left her with severe organ damage and paralysis from the waist down.
It was whilst on an outward-bound course in the Lake District with the charity Back-up that her sporting spark was reignited and her eyes were opened as to what was possible. She realised that she was missing sport and says of the course, ‘It brought me back to life.’
During her rehabilitation, she had tried wheelchair tennis at Stoke Mandeville hospital but had found it too difficult to play in a chair, her mind harking back to pre-accident days. Back in her hometown, Sophie started looking for local disability sports and found a wheelchair basketball club ten minutes away. She had previously played netball, and basketball had been used in her physiotherapy, so she knew she had the ball skills, but it was a new sport, one she hadn’t played when she was able-bodied which felt positive.
Sophie admits that at first, she was terrible at it! She found it challenging which was frustrating given she’d been so athletic and sporty before. But, she improved and in time was scouted by the GB wheelchair basketball team. Next year, all being well, she should be travelling to Tokyo for the 2021 Paralympic games.
Being part of a disabled people’s sports club helped Sophie identify with having a disability and she discovered a very welcoming community. It has helped to restore her confidence and she is motivated to be fit, healthy and strong. She still hates losing and is aiming for a Paralympic medal next year!
Our clients may not have the Paralympic Games in their sights, but they should definitely aim for their own sporting personal bests and reap the benefits that brings.