Friday, 7 June 2013

On The Right Track

Twelve months ago, pretty much to the day, I started to write.

Someone had given me the opportunity to write a blog for a football fanzine, to capture ‘a day in the life' of me getting myself to a football match. To my surprise the story went viral but the greater surprise comes from the events that have followed.

I've since appeared in my football clubs match day programme, Charity magazine & website, made a presentation to everyone of my work colleagues, telling them about Muscular Dystrophy and how devastating the condition is. I have written a guest blog on ‘Harrisons fund' website (a Duchenne charity), I‘ve been asked to appear in a filmed Ad campaign later this year by a national newspaper, and so much more...

One of my proudest moments was seeing my brother run the London marathon, for me and my brother, to raise money and awareness for us and all other sufferers of this terrible condition. And all the while I have been obsessively putting pen to paper writing about the condition, and, of course, about football too.

Where is all this energy going? Well, the answer comes with what I have been doing this week. It's something completely different albeit very much related to the theme of the past year. I was asked to attend parliament as a Muscular Dystrophy ‘Trailblazer' to discuss the concept and to get involved in ‘Access to sport'. Anyone who knows me will know how much I love sport, every aspect of it, so I wasn't going to let this opportunity go...
This is my story of 5th June 2013, Access to Grassroots sports evidence session.

So I'm standing here, alone on a platform waiting for my London bound train and it occurs to me, this is actually the first time in years that I have been in this situation.

Wherever I go in my life I'm usually accompanied by somebody, someone to make sure I don't fall or to carry my belongings because of the inconsistency of myself and my condition. This brings a nervous apprehension in the pit of my stomach but I know I need to get to London and go to represent myself and others.
This is the 11.05am train to London and already I feel slightly tired. I'm missing my wife, Michelle. She is always there for me to lean on (literally) and someone who understands every part of me and why, sometimes I just cannot go on and then she is there to nudge and push me forward, mentally and physically sometimes.

Arriving in London and I know my route already, really simple. Just one change at Embankment to Parliament and I'm there. Easier said than done, Embankment has three flights of steps to the changing platform that I need, as I have previously mentioned in other articles, this brings massive burning and a sense of paralysis to my thighs, I have to sit down and I have to sit down now!
A few seconds respite and I am back, composed and ready to ‘surf' on the tube the one stop I need to Parliament. What a glorious sunny day as I surfaced next to the Thames and opposite the majesty of the Houses of Parliament.

Searched and all badged up, I'm directed to the Boothroyd room where I'm greeted by Bobby Ancil and introduced to fellow Trailblazers Tanvi and Mathy (Fantastic girls!). This feels good! I'm feeling part of something again, a sense of reassurance despite the absence of Michelle.
All the Trailblazers are seated in a horse shoe fashion and all looking in the direction of the panel sat at the open ended part of the room. The panel consists of representatives of David Lloyd leisure, Interactive, Aspire, UK inclusive PE project co-ordinator, English federation for disability sport, Performance manager, Boccia England and Freya Levy, a GB basketball player.
The introduction from Paul Maynard MP went onto evidence from Mathy Selvakumaran highlighting her personal experiences of accessing grassroots sport and the findings of the ‘Game on' report and then onto questions from Trailblazers and parliamentarians to the panel. The questions cover promotion, participation, planning, equipment, communication and young people & sport.
As the questions are being asked and answered I don't feel overwhelmed by anything, I feel quite comfortable here (physically). What is bothering me and keeps going round in my head is a word, a word that was spoken about a great deal in 2012 - that word was Legacy!

London 2012 was supposed to be a catalyst for positive change and inspiration and like many people I did feel it, I did get it, but now it seems to have worn off a bit.
I'm sat here agreeing with questions being asked and also some of the answers but I feel a missing link, if disabled people are asking for help into sport for themselves and able bodied people and a panel are somewhat agreeing that this needs to happen then what is the missing link?

Coincidence or not, I actually live less than 500 metres from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which in the grounds also contains the Stoke Mandeville stadium, for years a home for Dr Ludwig Guttmann and the birth place of the paralympic movement yet it is never advertised for it's facilities. I never see anything on a newspaper shop notice board or an ad campaign in a local newspaper or a leaflet drop saying ‘Come and exercise here, join in" Nothing! It is all very sad.

As the meeting closes and starts to wrap up I do feel a little rewarded from today but I'm also leaving with a sense of frustration and feel that with others I will need to keep fighting for grass roots sports and access to them. I still have a sense of uncertainty even though the day has been really rewarding.

I'd also like to point out that I did notice the efforts of Freya Levy and she really stood out for me, her attitude was extremely positive and if I had my way she would be in schools speaking up and down the country about getting into sport and the experiences she has had. A wealth of knowledge and I hope she gets to Rio 2016.
All that's left is my journey back to middle England and tackling those stairs at Embankment station. It is with perfect irony that I am always thinking about the next steps!!

Shattered, I arrive home and immediately I am faced with another opportunity; this time to appreciate my wonderful girls, so I grab the football and take them to the park so they can have a runaround and a kick about. Family eh? This sits with all of us you know. We can also take a look at ourselves too! If parents sit on a couch eating chips (disabled or not) then what do you think their children will do? Having a kick about is the ultimate investment in grass roots I guess.

I'll always do my best to promote sports whether that is as a spectator or participant, so, as I mentioned and will continue to mention, this does not stop here, I will continue as a trailblazer and do what I can to help.
EVERYONE should have access to grass roots sports.

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