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Spirit of NI Awards: Heroes give their communities a sporting chance

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COMMONWEALTH AMBITIONS: Ross Davidson

COMMONWEALTH AMBITIONS: Ross Davidson

COMMONWEALTH AMBITIONS: Ross Davidson

A dedicated and talented group of people have been shortlisted for our Spirit of Sport Award sponsored by The Boulevard.

An entire Co Down village got together to nominate Darren McQuoid who has made a difference to so many through his passion for football and his local community.

Darren filled a huge void for young people when he established a local football club in Drumaness.

Working as assistant director for the mental health charity, Praxis Care, he became concerned about rising mental health problems and high suicide rates in his local area.

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Football coach Darren McQuoid

Football coach Darren McQuoid

Football coach Darren McQuoid

Over the past eight years he has recruited a team of over 20 volunteers to complete their IFA coaching qualification, some of whom have gone on from their voluntary roles into paid roles in the local league.

Thanks to many hours of voluntary service, Darren has now established six football teams for young people ranging in age from eight to 16 years, with around 200 taking part.

When play stopped during the pandemic, he found funding for a 10-week online training session for the kids.

He also managed to keep the coaches busy by signing them up for deliveries of food parcels to vulnerable people in the area.

One of the children who has benefited from his hard work and drive said: “He is always, always happy, enthusiastic and has lots of energy, he always says, ‘Well done Holly,’ and gives me the thumbs up and smiles all of the time.

“He is always there helping everyone, even helping to tie their football laces.”

A grateful parent added: “Drumaness football club is incredibly lucky to have Darren. His enthusiasm and unquenchable thirst to improve things at grassroots in our village is inspirational”.

As a talented rugby player Ross Davidson’s life was turned upside down when he tragically lost his leg following a horrific accident in Asia in 2017.

The Co Antrim man was left battling severe depression and wondering if he would ever walk again after the horrific scooter crash while volunteering in Thailand.

Now, however, the 27-year-old is dreaming of representing his country as a wheelchair basketball player in next year’s Commonwealth Games.

His remarkable recovery, both physically and psychologically, from a life-changing incident, has surprised and delighted many, not least the man himself.

Indeed, his main concern these days seems to be finding the time for training and making it onto Northern Ireland’s first wheelchair basketball team at the Games.

Carrickfergus native Ross started wheelchair basketball just seven months after his crash.

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Spirit of Sport finalist Ross Davidson

Spirit of Sport finalist Ross Davidson

Spirit of Sport finalist Ross Davidson

Now based in Yorkshire where he trains at the English Institute of Sport (EIS), and plays for the Sheffield Steelers wheelchair basketball club, his heart is set on making it to the Birmingham Games in 2022.

Speaking to our sister paper the Belfast Telegraph last month, he said: “The cut hasn’t been made yet, so I’m still competing for a place.

“I’m currently in an intense training programme, I’ve stepped back from work and I’m living back in Northern Ireland for the whole summer to try to become a better player and end up physically fitter.”

Ross spent four weeks fighting for his life in Thailand and underwent 13 operations and scores of blood transfusions before being flown back to Belfast where his treatment continued in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

By May 2018, he had been fitted with a prosthetic limb and was taking his first tentative steps back to his own ‘new normal’ at Musgrave Park Hospital.

He admitted: “I faced death; it terrified me and I wanted to live, no matter what.”

Sport proved to be a saviour when his mental health suffered and after a remarkable recovery he is now a top athlete with his sights set on securing a medal at next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Running coach Alistair Bratten really stepped up during lockdown to help keep people in his community both mentally and physically active.

Alistair — who is a coach with Springwell Runners on the North Coast — caters for all abilities with his inclusive approach.

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‘INCLUSIVE’: Alistair Bratten with some young runners

‘INCLUSIVE’: Alistair Bratten with some young runners

‘INCLUSIVE’: Alistair Bratten with some young runners

Concerned about members being locked down during the pandemic, he worked hard to offer training plans that could be done at home.

He also made his own exercise demonstration videos to help keep everyone motivated.

When restrictions eased he gave up his own time to get small group sessions going again

One grateful club member said: “He always goes above and beyond in getting the kids active, making it fun and giving them opportunities to compete for those who want to, while also supporting all those that don’t.”


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