The knot in my stomach tightened, my legs felt like lead, I’m so rubbish at sports. I walked up to Britannia Leisure Centre. I’ve never played rugby. I’ve never been in control of a wheelchair. What if I humiliate myself, let my team down? Nobody will want me in their team. I’ve already arrived late.
I opened the swing doors to the sports hall, sports noise blasted out at me: a referee whistle, cheers, clapping and laughter. I felt a buzz of excitement. I had arrived at the Bolt Burdon Kemp wheelchair rugby event.
A few days before, I had been thumping away at my computer, I work from home and I was feeling quite isolated. My email inbox pinged. ‘ooh a non-work email!’ an invitation
“I am emailing to check whether you may be available and would like to attend the Wheelchair Rugby event organised by Bolt Burdon Kemp… I have played wheelchair rugby before and loved every minute of it! The event is run by Wheelchair Rugby Experience who take into account different levels of abilities to ensure that wheelchair rugby can be enjoyed by everyone. It can also give a great insight into what it means to be a wheelchair user… if this is of interest to you, it would be great to see you there!”
I didn’t hesitate. “yes. Yes. Yes please !”
“Wonderful” was the reply “see you there. “
I Googled Wheelchair Rugby Experience…
“The day, lead and run by Paralympians, will provide a competitive day with a focus on specific issues of trust building, decision-making, communication, leadership, honesty, problem-solving, and change management. This experience will challenge your team’s dynamics and encourage self-reflection as well as being great fun. It is shaped completely with you in mind and we will guide you through building your Wheelchair Rugby Experience.“
As soon as I arrived and I was welcomed by staff from Bolt Burdon Kemp and my nerves melted away. The event was so well organised and the atmosphere was warm and supportive. I was allocated my team colour, introduced to my team mates and we were each given a pair of gloves. Now for the safety briefing and introduction to wheelchair rugby!
Rugby wheelchairs are something out of Mad Max! Steel and structural, they are designed with a metal hoop around the base, protecting your legs and feet when in rugby ‘combat.’ The wheels and every detail have been designed to protect you and keep you upright so that you can feel safe and that you too, can smash and tackle fearlessly.
I learnt that the gloves were not just to keep my hands from blistering. They helped me grip the wheels of the wheelchair, and helped me to spin the wheels and try and go as fast as possible…and also when in a manoeuvre to tackle opponents.
Keep your arms away from the wheels or you will get friction burns!
This is how you pick the ball off the floor and this is how you ride with the ball on your lap.
Suddenly the whistle blows and we’re off! Of course I was not as rubbish as I thought I would be, of course I felt safe in the design of the wheelchair. I was having fun and doing my best to do my bit for the team. On the side lines, keeping an eye on the game and the players, whizzing over to help, advise, encourage, give tactical advice were the professionals.
Game one was over. Everyone from both teams, wheeled around and we did high fives, shook hands “well done” gripped each other’s arms. We were all equals, we looked each other in the eye and laughed “great game.”
I wheeled over to the side line. I stood up and walked away from the wheelchair and suddenly as I went to share a joke with a team mate I felt very vulnerable. Today I could stand up and walk away, skip about and run but there were team mates that I had just played with and they couldn’t. They were busy transferring into their own wheelchairs.
The day tournament was organised by Bolt Burdon Kemp – BBK – a firm of solicitors who specialise in a range of cases including serious injury claims. During the day I had some really insightful conversations with their solicitors and their colleagues about their work. BBK represent people who have sustained brain injury, spinal injury and they deal with medical negligence and accident claims. I began to realise how complex injury cases are in terms of the legal proceedings and how passionately they represent their clients. Each of the solicitors I spoke to had a detailed knowledge of their area of specialism, not just in terms of the law, but also the medical facts. What made me really stop and think was when they explained to me the impact on a person’s life, physically, mentally and how a family is impacted not just financially. I also spoke to a few people in our teams who had had life changing injuries. We spoke about how their lives had changed, their legal battles. I heard how one person who, experiencing the Invictus Games, had been inspired and motivated, leading them to train and become an athlete at an international level.
My Wheelchair Rugby experience totally blew me away. I met some fantastic people, we laughed, we pulled stomach muscles, I was totally outrun by team mates who were disabled and wheelchair users. I experienced how it feels when a room is not wheelchair friendly or a conversation goes on above your head. Most of all, I realised how important the support of a team is and how sport lifts us all.
A great day, we all won.
Bolt Burdon Kemp are specialist claims solicitors covering brain injury, spinal injury, military claims, abuse claims, medical negligence and accident claims.