In my previous blog post I discussed the fact that life skills were given a lot of prominence in the time table of my school Ysgol Gogarth.
We we’re fortunate for the majority of my time there that we had an indoor swimming pool in the school grounds. Thinking back to those days I can still smell the chlorine in the water and this disgusting brown liquid which we had to wash our feet with in case we got a varuca.
We had weekly swimming sessions and thanks to these I learnt to swim. As with most other new skills I was very timid but once learnt I began to enjoy them. When you are a paraplegic swimming is great exercise as the water supports your body. All my life I have felt that all children should be taught to swim. We live on a group of islands after all and many families here in the UK go on holidays to the seaside or to destinations abroad where outdoor pools are available.
Most towns and cities now have leisure centres or indoor pools so there is little excuse for any child to be unable to swim at a very early age. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you should not leave primary school unable to swim. Lessons for the senior boys back in the 1970s were organized by volunteers from the local rugby club and golf club. They were a lot of fun.
Riding for the disabled also came to the school weekly. The Patron, Princess Ann visited the school on one occasion. I have to admit that me and horses don’t get on. On the only time I took a lesson with Riding For The Disabled I spent the whole time thinking I was going to fall off. Whilst most of the other pupils taking part went trotting happily past. I was told that the balance problem was due to the fact I could feel the horse with my left leg and not with my right.I think I was born with a fear of the unknown. Something I have carried with me into adulthood.
By far the most popular sport in the school was athletics. We had an annual sports day with the schools two houses Tudno (The Greens) and Seiriol (The Reds). We also had an annual Eisteddfod. There was always a real rivalry between the houses. I think it is very healthy to give a child a competitive instinct. After all you are going to have to compete for many things in life. Those of us who are disabled from birth need to realize that we need to do things as well as possible to be compared favourably with our able bodied counterparts. The cup was always hard fought for. I was a good wheelchair racer from quite a young age.
I also competed in the shot, discuss and the javelin. In fact, I would have been thrilled if we had a pentathlon! In fact for the last three years I was a pupil at Gogarth a cup was awarded to the pupil that had done best in all the events competed in on the day. It was called the Vicor Ladorum. I won it twice.
In the mid seventies it was decided that the Welsh Sports Association For The Disabled was to be formed and so a Welsh Championships was to be held. As our sister school Erw’r Delyn, Penarth had a running track it was selected as a venue. It was decided to send a team down to the outskirts of Cardiff to compete and to see if any of us could qualify for the proposed squad to represent our nation at the British Games. When I think back to those days I definitely have the feeling the pupils of the two schools didn’t get on too well. There was nearly a fight on one trip there and the teachers threatened to take us back to Llandudno.
In that first championship a few of us got into the squad. It was the same weekend as history was made at the Wimbledon tennis with the late Arthur Ashe becoming the first Afro-American to win the Men’s Singles title. That afternoon was baking hot. Alongside John Edwards from Ysgol Gogarth and Martin Evans and Stephen Thomas from Erw’r Delyn I completed in the wheelchair sprints. On the day we found that there was a 60metre race and a 100metre race. As neither Ysgol Gogarth or Erw’r Delyn had a 100metre track nobody had trained for it. Our then Deputy head, the late Emrys Roberts, said that I looked the stronger so should enter the longer Sprint. I made my way to the start feeling seriously nervous. The gun went off. For the whole race two of us were neck and neck until we crossed the line. To everyone’s surprise I won the race and therefore the schools first gold medal. Later that afternoon a Gogarth pupil from Caernarfon, Gareth Thomas won a silver.
On returning to the school a special assembly was organized so the pupils could celebrate the success of the team. Mr Rhapps had arranged for a comedian called Wyn Calvin to present the medals. He had presented a donkey to the school previously and we had called it Wyn. Not sure if he was impressed. Gareth Thomas and I were seated at the front and Mr Rhapps brought Wyn Calvin in. He sat next to me. He shook my hand and said good morning Reverend. Very odd.
I mentioned it to my Dad. He confessed that it could have been his fault. One of the Ministers in Llandudno was Wyn Calvin’s Brother John. Dad had told him about the presentation and that I was a Ministers son.
As with education, we can see that with encouragement disabled athletes can succeed. With the success of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson in the Paralympics in the late 80’s and 90’s and with the 2012 games in London catapulting disabled sport on to TV screens world wide we now have disabled sports people who are world famous. As with all other sections of society we as disabled people need our role models too. Now we have them in sports and other areas. I am sure that sports for disabled people, with its roots in the rehab of troops after World War Two will go from strength to strength. As long as the media will stop one thing. That thing being to refer to disabled sportsmen and women as an inspiration! They would not refer to Sir Mo Farrah in that way so why do it to the likes of Johnny Peacock. As with every other sphere of life those of us who live with a disability want just one thing, equality.