I can only speak from my personal experience, and for me, sport has always been a big part of my life. It might be because tennis appeals to my competitive nature, but I also think there is something fundamentally human about playing and watching sport.This didn’t change once I was confined to my chair, and sport continues to be a part of my daily existence. So, I have mixed feelings when I reflect on the chasm that exists between the sport and disability sectors. I was able to bridge the gap. But I feel that I am the exception rather than the rule.
The Broader Benefits of Sport
There are a number of wonderful organisations that work tirelessly to promote greater inclusion for athletes of all levels, ages and abilities. According to Australian Disability Sport, one in eight Australians has some form of disability. Sport brings forth talents that may otherwise be under-utilised, especially if your disability exists from birth. It also plays an important social role. Indeed, mental health is an extremely important issue for the disabled community due to potential feelings of alienation. I know this to be true from personal experience.I made the choice to engage in sport, but it wasn’t easy. I had my own physical and emotional hurdles that I needed to conquer. Sport for disabled athletes can also be extremely expensive, with individual, tailored equipment required. A combination of luck, and an incredible support base meant that I was able to invest in tennis. But once I started, the benefits were enormously fulfilling. Not only did I feel better, spending more energy and feeling the positive effects of endorphins coursing through my body, I also gained things that we all too often take for granted. A routine, for example, where I got to meet new people and make new friends.
Inclusion Should Be The Minimum Standard
It’s encouraging that there are a number of sports specifically designed for the disability space. For example, Goalball is a Paralympic sport for visually impaired players, which utilises bells embedded within balls to facilitate a soccer-style game. Government funding is available to further the options available for people with a disability, and the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) should help registered bodies to further these sorts of wonderful activities. But I think we should shift the focus away from mere inclusion, and towards greater choice. Inclusion should be the minimum standard that we seek to promote. Choice will mean that the individual is empowered.My advice to any young person is to challenge yourself. Whether this leads to trying a new sport for the first time, or setting goals. If you can imagine a sport that you might enjoy then you should pursue the options available near you. You may need to start up something altogether new, but don’t be limited by what others tell you. We need to work together in order to mitigate issues of accessibility, particularly in rural locations. Part of living with a disability is that you have to be proactive and motivated, and I can vouch that the commitment and investment in sport is definitely worth it.
Wheelchair Tennis Champion