Author: Lee Duffy
Sport is great. It gives you heart-stopping, exciting moments that will live long in the memory. For some, as soon as the whistle blows, or the final buzzer sounds, that’s it, back to living their lives. But for others, it goes much deeper than that. Sport can be all people have to look forward to in their day, whether its playing or just watching, sport can be the highlight of many people’s week.
Team sports has given so many amazing opportunities to people with disabilities to mix with people and to get out and get active. Many teams in a variety of different sports have initiatives in place to help disabled and also under privileged kids to enjoy themselves through playing sport. It gives them hope that one day, they can be sports stars like their heroes that they watch on tv.
Many sport stars have overcome tough times in their lives to become huge successes in sport.
Chelsea McClammer wasn’t born with a disability. Instead, she had to adjust to it at the age of six, when she was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
But instead of giving up on sports, she has thrown herself into them, and it started paying off in 2008, when she was named the youngest member of the U.S.’s Paralympic team.
In Beijing, she competed in the women’s 800-meter, where she finished in eighth place. That same year, she finished in first place and set the female course record at the Bloomsday Road Race in Spokane, Wash.
Since then, she was nominated for an ESPY for the Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
Jason Smyth is an Irish Paralympic athlete who is the World champion and record holder in the 100 and 200m events. Smyth is legally blind, but did not let that stand in his way of his dream of being an Olympic sprinter.
In 2014, he also won double Gold at the IPC European athletics championships in Swansea, followed by the 100m metre title at the World athletics championships in Doha the following year. Later in 2015, he was crowned “The fastest Paralympian on the planet” at an event to mark one year to go until the Rio Olympics.
Sport has also helped change the lives of people with under-privileged backgrounds. It gives young kids something to be passionate about and keep them out of the wrong company and on the right path. There is no bigger advocate for this point than John McAvoy.
A former criminal, McAvoy was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 23 for conspiracy to commit armed robbery. While behind bars, he started a gruelling fitness regime to keep him occupied. It consisted of a thousand press ups, a thousand sit ups and a thousand burpees a day. It took him 2 hours a day. McAvoy says that the hormones made him feel “alive again”.
And when, after two years of good behaviour, he was sent to a conventional prison in York, he hit the gym as often as he could. “That’s when I first realised my capabilities,” he says. “I had no interest in sport, never did any as a kid, I didn’t know what was good, what was bad. They’d have fitness competitions at the prison and no one could get near me. I started to get a reputation as being the fittest prisoner in the system. I liked that.”
When McAvoy was sent to a minimum security prison after three years of good behaviour, he discovered a rowing machine. A prison officer began to notice how good he was and then began accumulating records. He broke the British record for rowing the marathon, then smashed the world record for distance rowed in 24 hours. By the time he went to open prison, instead of trying to escape, all he wanted to do was see if he could match his indoor scores on the water.
It then became clear to McAvoy that he was too late getting into rowing to make a real name for himself, so he then turned to the Iron Man challenge.
This is a sport in which mental resilience is as critical as physical fitness. it is a sport in which the ability to absorb pain is paramount is a big part of being able to compete, it is a sport tailor-made for him. There were a couple of obstacles in his way, he could not swim and he had not ridden a bike since he was 12. But those were minor considerations for McAvoy. And six weeks after deciding this was the sport for him, he had completed his first Iron Man in a hugely respectable time of just over 11 hours. In the two years that followed, he began to cut his record time down dramatically, with 7 hours and 45 minutes being his new best. McAvoy is now seen as one of the best amateur athletes in the UK, and wants to compete in the top European iron man events, as he is unable to compete in the US due to his criminal record.
Sport was a major help to McAvoy in helping him realise his true potential, that there was more to life than crime. It’s also a massive incentive for those that have disabilities to get out and compete. Sport isn’t just a game, it’s a way of life.