How can you get into sport after life-altering surgery? We spoke to Ray, who is a Regional Services Coordinator for Whizz-Kidz.
Hi Ray. It's really useful to talk to you about different ways for bone cancer patients who may have had life-altering surgery to get active. Could you explain a bit about your background in this area?
My late partner, Paul, had Ewing’s sarcoma and keeping active was a challenge for both of us during his treatment. Prior to his illness Paul played American football and we both enjoyed hiking, camping, and being outdoors. Pain, fatigue, and issues with fragile bones made it difficult for Paul to stay active through his treatment. He also became increasingly reliant on a wheelchair for mobility which meant we had to re-think what we could do outdoors. We did find ways to do most things though!
Recently my own mobility has been slowly decreasing due a neuromuscular condition– I can still walk fairly well but can’t really run or jump which are important skills for most sports! I started playing wheelchair sports about two years ago, first rugby and then basketball.
And I have a bit of a professional interest in this area too as I work for Whizz-Kidz, a charity which offers a range of services for young wheelchair users. My work focuses on youth clubs and wheelchair skills training and I’m always looking for new ways to encourage the young people I work with to be active and access the benefits of sport.
What do you think the main barriers are for people who have the motivation but can't seem to find the right activity for them?
There’s such a wide range of activities out there but many of them aren’t well known and it can be difficult to find information, particularly about small local clubs that aren’t always very good at advertising themselves. It’s a struggle to find the right activity if you don’t know where to look.
I think many people can also be nervous about trying a sport for the first time, particularly if they weren’t particularly sporty before their surgery. Plus there can be some anxiety around taking up a disability sport as it means you are accepting yourself as having a disability.
Equipment can also be a major barrier. Many sports for people with reduced mobility require expensive equipment, a powerchair football chair, for example, costs upwards of £4,500. The thought of those expenses can put people off before they’ve even tried a sport.
What's one of the quirkiest activities you've been involved in?
I’m taking a Whizz-Kidz group wheelchair paddle boarding on a mega stand up paddle board this week, I think we might be the first to try it!
Sandboarding (lie down style) is probably the most unusual sport I’ve tried myself. I wasn’t very good at it, I scraped all the skin off my chin, but I enjoyed it!
What's the most popular kind of activity, in your experience?
I’ve heard swimming is the most popular. I think wheelchair basketball is also very popular. It’s accessible to people with such a wide range of lower limb disabilities. The team I currently train with has amputees, paraplegics, and people like me who can walk but not fully participate in the running version of the sport. Plus most people are aware of wheelchair basketball through the Paralympics coverage so it’s a sport people know to seek out.
Inclusive cycling (hand cycles, tricycles, wheelchair adapted bicycles, etc.) also seems to be growing in popularity and lots of local parks now have bikes available to hire. I think it’s a great option for people who want to be outdoors or who aren’t keen on a team sport. It’s also something all the family can do together.
What would your top tips be for someone trying to find a new club or session in their area?
Lots of local areas have their own umbrella sport organisation, many of which work to promote disability sports and run taster days. For example, Sport Birmingham run the Birmingham Inclusive Sports Fest every year, which offers taster sessions in a wide range of inclusive sports. These organisations aren’t always well promoted but searching for your local area or nearest large city plus ‘disability sport’ will usually get you to the relevant website.
Once you’ve found something in your local area my top tip would be give it a go! It’s fine to try a sport or activity once and decide it’s not for you, but if you don’t try it you’ll never find the one that is the right fit. Many clubs will offer a free taster session so you can give something new a go at no cost. Most clubs are very welcoming and happy for you to bring a friend or family member along with you.