With the 2016 Rio Paralympics soon to start, Plymouth’s wounded military veterans have been finding out what Wheelchair Rugby is all about.
GB Wheelchair Rugby sent one of their coaches and multiple game chairs along to Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre to give the charity’s beneficiaries and their families a taste of the sport.
Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008, offering around 300 events each year across 50 different sports at a grass roots and performance level to help rebuild lives. This is the first time Wheelchair Rugby has appeared on the programme in Plymouth.
Participants, many of whom were completely new to the sport, were put through their paces over two hours, initially taking part in some drills to build skill level before being let loose against each other to experience the thrill of a real match.
Sport plays an important part of someone’s recovery, helping with self-confidence and providing psychological empowerment. These significant mental health benefits can be translated outside of sport and into everyday life.
Veteran Mike Bellamy said: “Taking part in team sport is a great way of meeting other people. Wheelchair Rugby is physically and mentally challenging so it gives you a focus and takes your mind off everything else.”
GBWR coach Luke White added: “Sport is great for helping people with injuries. Wheelchair Rugby allows people to be aggressive but have fun at the same time. You can offer it to anyone.”
Good-spirited aggression caused the coach to halt training at one point amid concern for the game chairs when some of the group’s enthusiasm got the better of them and three wheels had to be replaced in a short space of time.
While the majority were trying the sport for the first time, they were being encouraged by a few more experienced players. Grant Harvey won a bronze medal earlier this year as part of the UK’s Wheelchair Rugby team at the Invictus Games in Orlando, while others regularly attend training sessions at the Life Centre with Westcountry Hawks.
Leah Rochester, whose dad Roch trains with the Hawks, was given the chance to take part and had a game plan to challenge the competition after watching her dad train alongside veteran Glyn Barrell.
Leah said: “I’ve watched Glyn in training before and I know that his technique is to go down the outside while everyone else is caught up in the middle, so I’m marking him to make sure he can’t do that!”
Young Leah made her mark on a number of occasions causing the adults in the game to comment on her ferocity, even though she was smiling the entire time at being able to play alongside her dad.
More than twenty people attended the session with many now keen to pursue the sport further.