Over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed visiting some of the amazing sessions from our award-winning ActiveAbility programme which aims to make sport and exercise accessible to all adults and children with disabilities.

I loved every one of the sessions I visited and would recommend them to anyone. Everyone there clearly loved them too – the first thing I noticed at each was the friendly and positive atmosphere. It was clear to me how important ActiveAbility is in the lives of those who attend.

PaddleAbility:

The first session I visited was PaddleAbility which runs weekly on Saturdays at the Woodmill Outdoor Activities Centre at 11:00-12:00. It gives everyone the chance to canoe or kayak, regardless of their ability.

It was clear right from arriving at Woodmill that these sessions are loved by everyone who takes part. All the coaches were more than happy to welcome me into the session; one of them, Ben, even let me share a canoe with him and taught me some skills!

Throughout the session, I got to see the close bond that the Woodmill coaches have with the participants. It really felt like a friendship rather than a teacher-pupil relationship.

I spoke to assistance coach, Adam, who found Woodmill after his own accident. He works at the centre at weekends and told me: “I do this because I love it.” For both coaches and participants, the session seemed to be the highlight of their week – it certainly was the highlight of mine!

After getting off the water, the Woodmill staff gave everyone hot drinks and biscuits which gave me the chance to chat with parents and coaches. Some parents, who often struggle to find activities that suit their child’s needs, explained to me how important PaddleAbility is to their families.

I had a great chat with John, a hugely inspiring instructor who has been working at Woodmill for about 11 years. He explained to me about how PaddleAbility is tailored to everyone’s individual needs and his amazing hopes for the sessions in the future.

I left feeling inspired and uplifted for my weekend ahead in the library!

Athletics:

Last Wednesday, I visited the athletics, ran by the brilliant coach, Andy. These sessions are hosted by Way Ahead Athletics Club, however anyone of any ability is welcome! They run every Wednesday afternoon, 13:30-14:30, at the Outdoor Sports Centre.

The athletics forms part of Special Olympics Solent where athletes can compete regionally and nationally. It was the group’s last training session before their competition that weekend, which was great for me to see.

We began training with a game of British Bulldog before splitting into two groups to practice javelin and shotput. I watched the group practicing javelin and even got to have a go myself (I think it’s safe to say I don’t have a natural flare for it). Whilst watching, I got the chance to chat to the athletes who were all lovely and so welcoming to me. Seeing the strong friendships within the group was very uplifting.

The overriding feeling throughout the whole session was that of fun; there was so much laughter – everyone clearly adores training!

   

Wheelchair Rugby:

Wheelchair Rugby is something that I had never seen before, so having the opportunity to watch this session was really exciting! The training sessions run every Sunday morning, 9:30-12:00, at St Mary’s Leisure Centre. They are training sessions for Team Solent Sharks, but anyone is welcome to come along and try out the sport.

The Sharks have a 1st team, 2nd team and youth team. The teams include both male and female players.

When I arrived, the adult and youth players were training separately. This small-group training was great to see as I got to witness how much amazing attention each individual gets from the coaches. The session really was tailored to everyone’s individual needs. After the small-group training, the players joined together and played a match – I was blown away by the speed of the game; it was gripping to watch!

Pete, a colleague of mine at Active Community who was training with the 1st team, explained more about the sport to me which was very interesting. He told me that most athletes at the training sessions have their own chairs, tailored specifically to them, but others use club chairs donated kindly to them by Southampton Solent University. The university provides excellent support for the team throughout their training along with access to their Sports Science facilities.

Interested in seeing more? Come along to the Wheelchair Rugby Festival on Saturday 24th March at Places Leisure Eastleigh between 10am and 4pm. There will be a fun mini tournament and opportunities for people to come and find out about the club and have a go in a chair! The team are aiming to recruit more players, coaches and volunteers. Team Solent Sharks players, coaches and support staff will be on hand to give some tuition on how to play wheelchair rugby. The only thing that players need to bring is their own gloves – gardening type gloves will be fine.