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September 16, 2014

There is no doubt that the inaugural Invictus games were inspiring, amazing and awesome, not to mention humbling and very enjoyable. Each and every competitor gave their all in pursuit of sporting glory. There is little doubt that sport is a power for good, and that sport helps heal body and mind.

During the build-up and the four days of competition the viewers were given the opportunity to glimpse the lives of some of the injured service personnel. Each story both tragic and inspiring, heart-breaking and glorious. Every injury representing a challenge, a mental and physical mountain to be scaled.

Again and again it was made clear that sport helps improve the mental health of the ex-soldiers. Something I can relate to. Without rowing, I’m not sure where I’d be right now.

It would be easy for me to write an article with a bitter tone, suggesting that the Invictus games actually does little for disability politics, and that people with disabilities and impairments are being pushed away from elite sport because of the influx of injured servicemen – individuals who have and continue to enjoy the best coaching and rehab available.

The real point I wish to raise is this; what about the thousands of disabled men and women, specifically blind people, who are sitting at home doing precisely nothing. Individuals who face very real barriers to improved mental health. People who cannot access exercise and sport, do not have the opportunity to train to whatever level they wish. What about the disabled people who are disabled in the sense of discrimination and societal ignorance.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the injured servicemen do not deserve the care, charity, programmes and initiatives they enjoy, I am simply asking about the silent majority of disabled people who would like to be able to do some gentle exercise or sport. For surely, if we are to agree that sport is good for the mental health of the injured, surely it will work wonders on the mental health of the disabled.

So, we need initiatives to help those who cannot get out, cannot access exercise. It’s not sexy, it’s not media friendly, I’m not talking about fit young soldiers, I’m talking about real people. Overweight, depressed blind people who need the support to lead active and happier lives.

As I have recently moved house I am looking to join a new rowing club. No names, no pack drill…. I called one club and told them my credentials; I’m an experienced rower with pretty good 2k times etc. I was asked by a representative of the club if I was a veteran, as I explained I have lost the last of my sight over the last few years. When I said no, I had a luke warm reaction. When I called and spoke to someone else and said I was an ex-soldier, they were all over me like a rash.

Not scientific, not clever, but it does give you the impression that however fit and strong you may be, disability is misunderstood. I find it easier just to say I’ve been totally blind forever, rather than run the gauntlet of questions.

So there we are; the injured servicemen deserve everything they get… but so do we.


From → Disability, Society, Sport

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