On the 23rd July, we took the girls into town for our 2nd FREE family-friendly festival-type event of the summer, put on by local youth charities partnering with Bolton Council to bring ‘Sport on the Square.’ Our family is big on health and wellness, given we are a multi-disability household, it’s important we don’t take for granted our general overall health. With a prime focus on healthy eating and finding fun ways for us to keep fit as a family – despite our additional needs.
Sport on the Square
When I read about the event ‘Sport on the Square’ on Facebook, it sounded the ideal opportunity to get our girls out of the house and active, away from iPads and complaining of being bored every 2 minutes, which had already begun a week into the 6 week holidays!
The 3-day event had everything sport-wise imaginable to suit everybody’s tastes. Everything from 100m running track, giant trampolines, ninja assault course, ZORBS, boxing, cricket, rugby, badminton, tennis, gymnastics, archery, cycling, crazy golf, rock climbing, martial arts, basketball, rollerskating, and even wrestling.
With no mention of any adapted/accessible sports on the Facebook event page, we went with no expectation for anything to be remotely accessible for me to join in with them. I’m happy to sit on the sidelines to take photos of the girls having a good time don’t get me wrong, though it does make it extra special when events like these DO have some activities for wheelchair users/otherwise disabled.
So off we went on a gloriously sunny July day, sunscreen, shorts, and t-shirts on ready for a fun-filled day of operation – wear the kids out! I must note that the signage for the event, which filled Victoria Square in front of the town hall was on point. As locals, we knew where the square was automatically but I thought this was good given it was such a large event, that was FREE, meaning families maybe coming from surrounding boroughs. We arrived at 10am on Day 2 of the 3-day festival and queues snaked around each activity, sometimes double which is a bit daunting when you’re bringing young children and you’re a wheelchair user yourself. It was a good job the festival was more than the 1 day because you simply wouldn’t be been able to experience even half of what was on offer due to the sheer volume of attendees. Bolton FM was there pumping up motivating tunes that had the kids dancing in the queues, mine included which was cute to see and helped with occupying them. There were even some prize giveaways! The atmosphere was that of a summer festival with live music, people singing along and kids laughter, it definitely got us in an upbeat mood even if we were standing out in the blazing sun in many a queue.
The 1st thing the girls wanted to try was the cycling course. This activity consisted of different size and style bicycles or tandem bikes, for individuals or families to choose from and freecycle around the penned off course for 10 minutes each. As one of the volunteers kitted up the girls with their helmets and told them a few safety rules, another volunteer – a lovely lady called Jen pulled my partner and I to the side and asked me if I’d like to try cycling on one of their accessible bikes!
I was amazed! Suddenly as a group of people moved onto another activity, we got a glimpse (and a photo for you readers) of TWO versions of accessible bikes they had for people with disabilities. The 1st bike resembled a paralympic cyclists bike where it’s like a manual sports wheelchair but with a front third wheel and you peddle with your hands instead and the 2nd, which I was doubly in awe of was a wheelchair accessible bike where you could actually roll your chair up onto the platform of it, which is just incredible!
NOTE: Due to the extent of my muscle-wasting condition and that my powered wheelchair is extremely heavy, I did not want to attempt the wheelchair accessible bike as we were in agreeance it would have likely been way over the weight limit. Though I was thankful the volunteer said I could try if I wished and the sheer fact they were available in the first place!
Next, we headed for the rock climbing wall which was manned by local youth charity, WAVE. This activity was extremely popular from tots to teenagers and could accommodate several children climbing at once, which helped with the queuing situation. As we got closer, we noticed that youths that were connected with WAVE were in charge of the ropes. One boy, must have been 10-12 years old you could tell would make a such a motivating coach when he’s older after we witnessed his cool, calm and collected approach when his climber panicked near the top. He prompted with heartwarming encouragements of, “You can do it!,” “Go on Ella! Go on Ella!” and “you will feel so good about yourself if you stick with it, be fearless girl!” With his support, little Ella who must have been 5 or 6 perhaps, managed to get all the way to the top with a cheering crowd below. Whatever they do at WAVE with these youngsters, they do it well!
Abbie has done rock climbing once before but doesn’t quite remember. I was proud she was willing to give it another shot despite being a bit nervous. She was led up by a 10-12-year-old WAVE youth who was very patient and listened well. As a Mum, activities like this can be nervewracking to watch your child do but the feeling is exaggerated because Abbie has a visual impairment which affects her peripheral and depth perception. I could tell as she was heading up that she did struggle to clearly see the hand and foot holes, at one point she froze in fear. Abbie is such a determined and competitive young lady, so it’s important we don’t wrap her up in cotton wool. With encouragement and support, she does master things she struggles with visually and this was no exception. After some gentle reminders to use her hands and feet to feel to guide her further up, rather than relying on her vision, she bravely made it 3/4 of the way up before declaring she’d had enough. We were so, so proud and the girl aiding her gave her a pat on the back and told her the same which was very sweet.
As we’d met up with the girls’ cousin Cody, we were taking it in turns to let the children decide which activities to line up for. It was Cody’s turn and he chose Archery and was very animated doing his best robin hood, bow and arrow shooting impressions as we itched further up the queue. Ever the comic is our Cody! When it came to our turn, Cody took the first shot and we ooh’ ed and arr’ ed as he got SO close to the bulls-eye. Again we anticipated Abbie would struggle with this visually but we needn’t of been! In true Abbie fashion, on her first release of the arrow, she got it dead on the bulls-eye to a very disgruntled slightly younger cousin. Ava (3) was too young for this but thankfully by this point, the sun and activity had worn her out to the point she was dozing in the buggy so wasn’t tantruming over the fact she didn’t get to have a go.
Amongst the main activities of the day highlighted above we also roamed around the company stalls where you could sign up for summer holiday clubs centered around being active such as football, swimming lessons, scouts/brownies etc. We sat and watched a lady from a local Boules club demonstrate how the game can be adapted for a wheelchair user, as she herself was. Cody had a go at darts and some footie, and we chose some healthy options at Gregs on our way through. The girls are loving the fruit pots and fromage frai type yogurts they sell now!
Would we go again? Absolutely! It was a GREAT day out and the fact it was free for families is such a good motivation to go out and try something new that you may not get the opportunity to do otherwise, particularly as lessons and clubs can be so pricy for low-income families such as ours. We had a wonderful time and it has given both my girls a taste for adventure and born a bigger interest in sports.
The volunteers and organizers behind ‘Sport on the Square’ clearly wanted to show how inclusive many sports can be to a variety of disabilities. The way adaptive equipment was offered and being used regularly throughout the day, along with everyone else (not in a segregated cornered off area like some events implement) shows how dedicated they were to make sure everybody was on an equal playing field so to speak.
Before I conclude, I want to say a HUGE well done and Thank You to everybody involved in putting such a great motivational 3-day event together, prompting the local community to come together for better fitness and wellbeing which is so important. You did a tremendous job and should feel very proud of how popular it was. We look forward to attending again in the future!
Are you looking creating a healthier lifestyle for you and your family but feel your disability prevents you? What barriers have you faced to become more health-conscious? I’d be really interested in hearing your experiences in the comments.