We have had an exciting summer of international sport to watch here in the UK: tennis at Wimbledon, the men’s Cricket and the women’s Football and Netball World Cups, and much more. So I thought I would share something of my experience of playing sport, albeit with a visual impairment and at, shall we say, a slightly lower level of competition…
When I went to Linden Lodge School, I found that all the boys were football and cricket mad. Everyone got roped-in to playing these games, even those of us who had no idea what was going on. You would be amazed at what kids who love sport can achieve if you give them a ball with a bell in it.
My contribution to the games of cricket was to be a fielder. This meant standing somewhere on the edge of the action, hoping desperately that the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me!
I did enjoy playing rounders. Having arthritis, I couldn’t run very fast, but I gave it a go and all was well until I collided with another girl, fell and displaced some cartilage in my wrist. It hurt but having my arm in plaster and a sling was also something of a badge of honour and I loved getting people to write on the cast. I had to have help getting dressed and I remember a teacher cutting my sausages up for me in the café at the Science Museum, where we had gone on a school trip. I don’t remember any other occasions when that happened but I didn’t starve, so people must have rallied round.
We had a heated indoor pool at Linden Lodge and I really enjoyed swimming. Sometimes we went twice in a day if we could persuade a member of staff to hang around poolside while we splashed about to our hearts’ content.
Sadly, when I moved on to Chorleywood College, the pool was outdoors and not very warm. I couldn’t swim strongly enough to warm up and my joy in the sport soon dissipated. One of my most vivid memories was our P.E. teacher’s mantra whenever we complained: “No peace for the wicked.”
At Chorleywood we learned both ballroom and country dancing. (All right, they’re not exactly sport but they’re certainly physical activity, so cut me some slack.) I really enjoyed these lessons. I was never very good at doing the steps in reverse but as I am quite small I wasn’t often told to play the male role!
It was while we were doing a lively folk dance, involving couples twirling around and dancing to the end of a line, that another accident occurred. I suddenly found myself on the ground, a little bruised and, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “greatly astonished.” The next couple had started off before I was standing in line and, well, I’m sure you can picture the subsequent collision.
I don’t think the shock lasted long and it certainly didn’t stop me dancing.
I was excused Games because of my inability to run but everyone else had to join in a game called Sport X. I think it was a cross between rounders and a relay race. I know a lot of my school friends didn’t especially enjoy it. I even used to join them in performing a special rain dance which we did sometimes before Games, though it was never especially effective in getting Games lessons rained off.
Although I was unable to run – and never, despite my best efforts, managed to do a somersault – I still enjoyed climbing wall bars and rope ladders in the gym, though I didn’t venture very high.
There were opportunities at both Linden Lodge School and Chorleywood College to try a variety of sports. I went ice-skating at Linden Lodge and some of my friends went running and horse riding. At Chorleywood, many girls took up sailing. Sailing for the blind has been around for many years now and some former Chorleywoodians have sailed to some very exotic places.
You will have seen from the Paralympics that no disability is a total bar to participating in sport. I am delighted that there is even blind tennis now. I am not mobile enough to try it but I hope one day to at least stand on a court to get some idea of the distances my heroes (such as Rafa Nadal) have to run to get to the ball.
Of course many of these sporting opportunities for the visually impaired depend on sighted people being willing variously to ride on a tandem, climb a mountain or accompany a runner and it is great that they do.
Despite being hopeless at cricket, I am grateful that we were able to play these games at school. I am sure that the details of my fall and trip to hospital were recorded in the accident book but nobody ever suggested that any of us stop participating. Accidents happen when kids who can’t see are all running around together.
Sadly, these days, some children who are integrated into mainstream schools are not allowed to join in games with their classmates for fear they might hurt themselves. They are missing out on a valuable experience. Not only is it fun to run about, and a natural thing for a child to do, but being part of a team encourages you to try your best and gives you a sense of identity.
(Mind you, I don’t think the house I was in at Linden Lodge School – “Champion”, or maybe “Victory”, I can’t remember which – ever won on sports day while I was a member!)