Disability Undressed: Independence, freedom and the benefits of boccia
28 March 2018
Susie Herbert started using Leonard Cheshire services five years ago, moving into Fethney’s supported living — a transitional home in Worthing aimed at disabled people who want to live in the community.
Happy with the new confidence she gained, Susie chose to move to a smaller service linked to Fethney’s: Rectory Road, also known as our Living Options Outreach service.
Susie, who turns 28 in April, tells us more about her life at Leonard Cheshire.
‘We have a lot of freedom and I really enjoy it. You can learn the skills that you need to become more independent.
‘I started at Fethney’s and Rectory Road was the place I could go in order to build on these skills.’
She takes the chance to do as much as she can for herself.
‘I like doing my own housework, washing and laundry. I like having a work placement at a local centre for children and families.’
Out and about
Susie is keen to get out and about as much as possible.
‘I get on with the people at Rectory Road, and it’s nice to have my own space too. I enjoy the chance to meet up with friends, go bowling and shopping.
‘I also go to a sensory club called Sky Full of Stories — a storytelling group that uses all the latest sensory gadgets to enhance storytelling. I love that.
‘The Rectory Road staff — who are great — can just leave me there, and it’s always good fun.’
Now Susie is looking to build on her success in boccia — a Paralympic sport similar to boules — after winning a silver medal in the Heathcoat Cup Competition.
Players propel boccia balls to land as close as possible to a target ball. It’s a test of accuracy and tactics.
Players can bowl or throw the ball, but they can also use their feet or push the ball down a ramp.
Players are assigned a classification depending on how their impairment affects their action. So it’s a sport that is open to people with various levels of impairment.
Susie has cerebral palsy affecting all four limbs and uses an electric wheelchair. She plays in the BC1 category. She began at a young age and has never looked back.
‘I started playing boccia at secondary school when I was eleven or twelve. I just love it. It’s the one sport that I really feel I can excel in.’
In 2015, Susie’s exploits were given national recognition by the sport’s governing body, Boccia England.
First she was invited to an assessment day before getting signed up for the ‘talent programme’, joining the national Academy structure for two years of training.
Susie is keen to stress that success did not come easily.
‘When I first started playing boccia, I was losing everything. I had to keep going, but it’s paid off.’
It has taken a great deal of hard work to get to where she is now.
‘I think the key thing is perseverance. When I was younger it was all about winning and I wanted it to happen just like that.
‘But the talent programme and the Academies taught me a lot in terms of managing expectations and improving my game.
‘Before, my emotions were very up and down. Now, if I lose a game I am able to learn from it much more.’
Susie still relishes boccia competitions and says that she was ‘delighted’ to get a silver medal at the Heathcoat Cup in February.
‘Regional competitions are what I want to do now. I like to be able to play against other people and develop my tactics.’
Susie is clear that boccia can be great for many disabled people, with benefits going way beyond winning medals.
‘A huge part of it is the friends I’ve made through boccia. And it’s good for my self-esteem. I really do love it.’
How to take part
Susie advises people to join a club, by searching online through national boccia organisations such as Boccia England or Boccia UK. You can find other disability sport organisations near you through sites like Parasport.
You can try out boccia without spending too much money on equipment.
‘Boccia doesn’t involve too much kit. If you join a club, you can try out the sport — you can use their sets of boccia balls. You can buy your own later, when you have decided that boccia is the sport for you.’
Challenges to overcome
If you compete in regional or national events, it can be difficult to find a wheelchair accessible hotel in the nearest town.
It is usually possible, with a bit of research and discussions with the hotel. But Susie feels that hotels, and sometimes the towns too, really need to improve their accessibility — especially for people who use hoists.
Try something new
Susie feels that schemes like Can Do Sport are vital for breaking down barriers and expanding access, so that more people can enjoy sport and exercise.
‘Can Do Sport can help improve things. I hope it will help disabled people to look at sport and see it as something they can take part in.
‘Sport gives people a chance to expand their social life and try something they may never have done before. It can be a great idea to try something new.’
Disability Undressed is a series of stories featuring the people who use our services. To keep up to date with all our latest news, campaigns and events, sign up to our newsletters.