What a sporting community means to me
Northern Ireland sports stars team up with Lidl to highlight the mental and physical benefits of sport.
MMA fighter Leah McCourt, champion gymnast Rhys McClenaghan and world gold title holder, paralympian swimmer, Bethany Firth have joined forces with Lidl Northern Ireland to champion the role sport can play in the lives of young people here.
The three Northern Ireland athletes are fully aware of the benefits being active has on mental health which is why they have joined the Lidl Community Works Sports For Good Programme.
Specifically aimed at promoting positive mental health in young people here, the programme has donated more than £160,000 to various Northern Ireland clubs.
Champion gymnast, Rhys McClenaghan who is aiming for gold at the 2020 Olympics believes this support helps elevate local clubs from “grass roots to elite level” helping to produce the sporting stars of the future. He awarded Rainbow Gymnastic’s club in Dundonald their grant recently, adding: “I know how difficult it can be to get together money today so to receive that money helped buy equipment and it opens up new opportunities. It helps take clubs further and although elite level isn’t a necessity, the important thing is everyone is enjoying it.”
Rhys took up gymnastics at six years of age and he believes the sport has taught him more than what academic studies ever could. “It allows me to travel around the world. I was in Paris last week and I’m going to Germany next week. These are all experiences and life lessons.
“But there’s also the discipline that sport gives you and it helps you push your physical and mental boundaries it’s a continuous learning process. One of my favourite things about sport is it allows me to meet people all the time, people around the world who have become life-long friends. Having a sporting community is very, very important to young people.”
Leah McCourt, the celebrated MMA fighter, says sport has been “character building” for her, offering a sense of belonging and support over the years.
The mother of one admits to having struggled with anxiety and says spreading awareness of how beneficial sport can be is one of her many passions.
Awarding Galaxy All Stars cheerleader club in Londonderry their Lidl grant, she said: “Sport can build confidence, clear your head after a long day at school and improve your mental health all round. I struggle with anxiety and stress, even though sometimes I don’t feel like training but after I am always glad I went.
“Growing up in Belfast, I have always felt a sense of community and sport is good for reinforcing that. Community to me is very important; my gym community, church community and family community support me through my career, looking after my daughter, fight camps and struggles outside life.”
The competitor who trains up to three times a day and hosts her own female MMA training sessions for beginners at Queen’s Sport Belfast added: “All these winners have a passion in their chosen field and it’s clear by the hours of time they put into the clubs how influential they are in producing athletes and teams. It is very inspiring to see the teams, clubs, coaches working to provide opportunities in their community.”
Inspirational Seaforde native, paralympian swimmer Bethany Firth agrees that personal challenges can be processed better while being part of a sports community.
She was at hand to impart some athletic wisdom to Lisnaskea Girls Rovers and Craigavon Aztecs Volleyball clubs as they were awarded a Lidl grant.
She said: “Sport has really shaped my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. Before sport, I found it hard with my disability to fit in and didn’t want people to know I struggled with things or had a disability. Sport has allowed me to be proud of who I am and the things I have overcome. It has allowed me to meet so many incredible people, travel the world and push my body every day to do something new. It has really shown me that if you put your mind to it you really can do it.”
Find out more about the Lidl Community Works Sport for Good programme here https://www.lidl-ni.co.uk/communityworks