EVERY Monday Boccia enthusiasts gather at Craigavon Leisure Centre for an activity which is as much about socialising as it is about sport.
Most, but not all, of those taking part have some level of disability. Some of the members are accompanied by able-bodied friends, family and carers, but the beauty of the sport is it creates a level playing field for everyone taking part.
I had the pleasure of joining the group for a session on Monday. It was a welcome opportunity to get involved in some physical activity, having been frustrated when both the rugby and football matches I was due to play in were cancelled at the weekend due to snow.
Boccia (pronounced Bot-cha), is a paralympic sport first introduced in 1984. It mightn’t be as strenuous as rugby or football, but it’s no less competitive.
It’s played in teams of three and everyone taking part is seated. Boccia is played in a format similar to bowls in that a jack is bowled to start the game, then teams take it in turn to get closest to the jack. The balls used are soft and can be thrown, kicked or propelled down a ramp.
I found myself in a team with Alex McVeigh and his wife Susan who has Multiple Sclerosis. It was fair to say I was the weak link. I skipped the warm up target practice exercise and it was to my cost. It took me a while to get used to the weight of the balls during which time we’d already lost both our matches.
Thankfully it’s the taking part that counts in Boccia and it’s clear to see that everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Young Susie Whitten is a prime example of why activities like Boccia are vital to disabled people in Craigavon. Susie is blind and has physical disabilities. She attends the sessions with her dad Trevor and her friend and carer Debbie Millar.
In order to aim at the target she is given directions by Debbie and her dad and she’s also given an indication of where to aim by the sound of the coach clapping close to the jack.
“Suzie is amazing,” said Boccia enthusiast and wheelchair user Eric Flowers. “She’s an absolute joy to watch. She doesn’t let anything hold her back.”
For deaf couple Alan Hollywood and Louise Thompson the Boccia sessions are the highlight of their week. Despite the snow on Monday they weren’t to be deterred from attending.
The Boccia session are taken by Colleen Murray, the Inclusive Sports and Leisure Officer from Disability Sport Northern Ireland and David Mayers, Craigavon Borough Council’s Active Communities Disability and Multi Skills Coach.
Colleen, who is 27 and from Derrytrasna, told me: “The most important aspect of the Boccia sessions is inclusivity. Although it’s designed for people with Cerebral Palsy and high levels of physical disabilities anyone with any level of disability, including learning disabilities, can play. Carers, family and friends are also welcome to join in and it makes for a great mix.
“We get up to 20 at the sessions on Monday, then at the end of the month there’s a big competition where we’ll have 50 plus in attendance from different disability organisations and individuals from across the borough.
“It started out as a monthly session, but now it’s once a week, which tells you how quickly it’s grown.”
As well as the Boccia sessions from 1.45pm to 2.45pm on Mondays, Craigavon Leisure Centre also hosts New Age Kurling for people with disabilities on Thursdays from 1.30pm to 2.30pm.
There will also be an archery taster for anyone with a disability aged 10 and above on Sunday, February 10 from 2pm to 4pm at Craigavon Leisure Centre. Sharon Vennard, from Team GB will be in attendance.
For more information on Boccia and other disability activities in Craigavon email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 3834 1333 or 0776 925 0885.