2019 Inter Spinal Unit Games
In April 2019 I was invited by Hobbs Rehabilitation to form part of their team for the Stoke Mandeville based Inter Spinal Unit Games.
Our team comprised of just two of us with around 100 other competitors from 14 spinal units from across the UK represented.
The principle of the Games is to introduce spinal injury athletes to sport, provide some coaching and encourage friendly competition. Competitors must have had a spinal injury within the previous 12-months – meaning that nobody can compete twice.
Initial indications were that we could only compete in three events a piece but, as it transpired, I ended up competing in seven events and also trying a number of others.
I was classed as tetraplegic due to my minimal use of all four limbs, which put me in the minority as the majority of competitors were paraplegic. Ultimately, I was only one of three competitors not using a wheelchair but I had to compete in most events in either a static or mobile chair to create some form of level playing field.
It was interesting competing with other disabled athletes and there were a considerable number of stories and explanations to the causes of the disabilities occurred. It was strange however that the majority of those I spoke with were completely amazed by my story even though many of them were in pretty bad places. Virtually everybody knew what caused their disability and the fact that mine literally just happened out of nowhere was considered by many to be considerably worse than their own problems.
I competed in archery, boccia, fencing, pool, shooting, table tennis and tennis. I also played badminton and cricket but avoided the more violent wheelchair based activities such as rugby and basketball!
In the end I won my class in the wheelchair tennis but that was assisted by the fact that, as a tennis player before, I knew how to to play shots irrespective of the fact that I had to manoeuvre around half of a full size court in a wheelchair. I was runner-up in the table tennis, losing to a wheelchair-bound athlete in a very close match. Arguably it would have gone the other way had the referee not been extremely lenient with with opponest on a couple of points in the final game. Table tennis involved me sitting in a static chair – which was extremely difficult to do given my ability to move around. Boccia (basically a version of boules for disabled people) again saw me pick up the runner-up spot in a close fought final.
Archery (standing) was going really well until my bladder let go during one of my shots. At that time I was not on any medication for bladder control and was literally open to being caught unawares through a urisheath and leg bag system! Spasms cost me shots in the pool and I lost the semi-final having been described by the organiser as the best player there. I had to play the pool in a chair although one match was standing as my opponent was also able to. Unfortunately arm and leg spasms would just hit me out of the blue and that also caused me problems in the air rifle shooting -despite the fact that my first shot was an absolute perfect bullseye (the referee even commented on it immediately when he was not meant to say anything until the end).
My worst competitive sport was the fencing, where I was literally strapped into a chair that is bolted to the ground. It was extremely hard competing against paraplegics with full upper body strength although, by my third game, I had sussed what to do and was well up on points when my opponent claimed none of his shots were being scored (strange when he had two points on the board). I was knackered by that time and when they restarted it I just gave up as I literally had nothing left.
Thanks to my efforts alone Hobbs finished eighth overall out of the 14 teams although my wheelchair bound teammate fought desperately to secure points in a number of events.
It was a very interesting and educational week and the fact that we could go around calling each other ‘spaz’ was quite funny particularly when considering the reaction of the medical and care staff!
The games gave me food for thought and I eventually sought professional wheelchair tennis coaching with a view to taking this up seriously. Unfortunately my weakened upper body made it impossible to manoeuvre the chair as quickly as I needed to and in the end I moved back to simply playing with friends twice a week (also due to a lack of wheelchair competition and local opponents).