Belfast Telegraph

Disability? it certainly isn’t about sitting down and giving up...

The Paralympics made people sit up and take notice of the excellence of wheelchair sports. Steven Beacom met five local wheelchair-bound sportsmen to hear their stories — and find out what the organisation Disability Sport does for them.

Disability Sports NI is Northern Ireland’s main disability sports organisation and is recognised by Sport Northern Ireland as the key body responsible for the development of sport and physical recreation for people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.

Disability Sports NI was set up as a charity in 1997 to tackle the under representation of people with disabilities in sport by developing programmes and services designed to give every disabled person the opportunity to lead a full and active lifestyle through sport.

The organisation currently has over 100 member groups, made up of disability sports groups, schools and adult centres, and directly runs a range of events, participation programmes, training courses and services which annually benefit over 10,000 children and adults across Northern Ireland.

A long time supporter of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, Disability Needs Ltd has lent its name to the Sports Person with a Disability category since 2005.

A leading healthcare manufacturer and supplier throughout Ireland, Disability Needs provides a range of innovative care solutions and products including top end Invacare sports wheelchairs and handcycles for tennis, basketball, handcycling and football.

Managing director John Spottiswoode said: “The London 2012 Paralympics really put disabled sports on the global map and everyone is so proud of all our local athletes and their achievements.

“Disabled sports and sports people throughout Northern Ireland have scored many accolades in recent years and as a company we’re delighted to be a supplier of Paralympian standard sports wheelchairs and equipment.

“I’m sure in 2016 in Rio we’ll witness many more successful local athletes winning medals.”

Jim Corbett (Wheelchair racing)

Name: Jim Corbett

Age: 52

From: Banbridge:

How did you end up in a wheelchair?: I fell from a roof and broke my back in 1978 and ended up a paraplegic.

Sport: Wheelchair racing

What's that then?: We do races like athletes on the track be it 400 metres, 10,000 metres or marathons.

What's your speciality distance?: I have competed in quite a lot of marathons. I prefer the longer races. My weaker events would be short races like the 100m and 200m. I'd rather race in the 400m and 800m and distances up from that.

When did you take your sport up?: I've been involved in wheelchair racing for 20-odd years.

Why?: I used to play wheelchair basketball and then I got into wheelchair racing. I like the outdoors and the challenge of it.

Who inspires you?: My hero is the great Heinz Frei of Switzerland. He got injured around the same time as me and he is a world record holder in nearly all the wheelchair racing events.

What has Disability Sport done for you?: It's a good tonic because you are in amongst people with the same type of problems as yourself and you can talk to them about everything.

Bernard Rooney (Wheelchair basketball)

Name: Bernard Rooney

Age: 49

From: Originally from Belfast, now living in Downpatrick.

How did you end up in a wheelchair?: I had a motorbike accident about 20 years ago. I was going to work during a storm and it blew a tree down in front of me. I don't remember much about it.

Sport: Wheelchair rugby.

What's that then?: Wheelchair rugby is played indoors. There are two teams in a game and you have to get the ball across the goal line to score. It can be pretty physical.

When did you take up your sport?: About six years ago.

Why?: One of the doctors in Musgrave Hospital told me about it and got me in touch with Craig McMillan, who was involved in it. I met him and his father on the motorway and I followed them to see what it was all about and I've been playing ever since.

Who do you play for?: Gaelic Warriors, a team in Dublin. I'm down there every Wednesday night training. We play in a GB league. It's a league team and the national team because there is only one team here. Craig was in the team but now there's just me and two other younger lads, Sean Smith and Will Doggart, who are from Northern Ireland. It's great because you can get as fit as you want and you get to meet new people which is brilliant.

Who inspires you?: Eric Cantona's my hero.

What has Disability Sport done for you?: It has got me out and about. I've been to Germany with the rugby team and played a lot in England. It's been fantastic for me.

David Kerr (hand cycling)

Name: David Kerr

Age: 30

From: Portadown

How did you end up in a wheelchair?: I was involved in a motorbike accident 10 years ago when I was 19. I fell off my bike and broke my back.

Sport: Hand Cycling.

What's that then?: You compete in races against others in a hand cycle, which as the name suggests has pedals operated by hand. The hand cycle has two wheels at the back and one at the front.

When did you take up your sport?: About four and a half years ago.

Why?: I was tired of doing indoor sports. I like the freedom of the outdoors and it has given me a chance to get out of my chair and explore and see different parts of the world.

Where do you compete?: I'm in the Irish Development squad and have cycled around the north and south of Ireland and in England as well as in Europe and Abu Dhabi. It's a tough competition with around 60 or 70 people competing against you. I've finished in eighth, ninth and 10th in races.

Who inspires you?: South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius — ‘The Blade Runner'.

What has Disability Sport done for you?: It's given me the chance to meet lots of new people and provided me with opportunities in my life to get involved in different activities. It lets you see that disability isn't about sitting down and being beaten. There are so many things that you can do. It's better to look at what you can do than what you can't.

Johnny McCarthy (Wheelchair basketball)

Name: Johnny McCarthy

Age: 23

From: Lisburn

How did you end up in a wheelchair?: I was born with spina bifida.

Sport: Wheelchair basketball.

What's that then?: It's basically basketball played by people in wheelchairs.

When did you take up your sport?: Eleven years ago.

Why?: My parents needed to give me some way to expend my energy so they steered me towards wheelchair basketball.

What do you like about it?: I'm connected to the Wheelchair Knights team here in Northern Ireland. It's given me a way to keep fit and healthy. Wheelchair basketball is also a really fun, exciting game. I'm a small forward and I try my best when I'm out there on court. It's a really tough sport and a very technical sport but for those who train really hard they can go far.

What sort of training is required?: We train as a team twice a week for four hours and then you need to work as hard as you can away from that doing your fitness and gym work and shooting practice.

Who inspires you?: There's great basketball players that I like to watch and Michael Jordan is probably the best of all time. In terms of wheelchair basketball players, Patrick Anderson from Canada inspires me. I think he is the best wheelchair basketball player in the world.

What has Disability Sport done for you?: Well, it's given me a job, because I work here. Disability Sport gives people with disabilities a chance to get together which is important. And it helps give us the same opportunities as anyone else.

Stafford Lynn (Wheelchair tennis)

Name: Stafford Lynn

Age: 45

From: Ballyclare

How did you end up in a wheelchair?: I had a freak accident when I was on my motorbike. That was on July 12, 1997. It was gearbox failure – I slid off and hit a tree and that was the beginning of my spinal injury.

Sport: Wheelchair Tennis

What's that then?: People in wheelchairs playing tennis. It's pretty big around the world.

When did you take up your sport?: I took it up 12 years ago.

Why?: I had always played a lot of sport before the accident like golf, football, tennis and rugby. Years ago I played rugby for Ulster Schools and didn't want to stop so I decided to look at what sports I could do in a wheelchair and here I am playing wheelchair tennis.

So how good are you at wheelchair tennis?: I'm not too bad. I won the Belfast tournament this year and was runner-up in the Dublin tournament. I've also been All-Ireland champion, that was back in 2007 and 2009.

What's next?: We're going to play in the World Team Cup. We played in 2001 and 2002 but due to work commitments and family commitments we didn't get a chance to play in it any more but this year we have applied to go to Turkey for a qualifying event for the 2013 World Team Cup. That's for Tennis Ireland – north and south.

Who inspires you?: Usain Bolt would be one. He's a fantastic ambassador for all sport. Another is the great rally driver Sebastian Loeb. I used to do a bit of rallying myself and he is a hero of mine as was Colin McRae, who sadly has now passed away.

What has Disability Sport done for you?: Disability Sport has helped organise clubs and the running of clubs and pointed people in the right direction for getting funding or advice. It's a very worthwhile organisation. I was a member of the DSNI (Disability Sports Northern Ireland) at the very beginning of it and now it's really big thanks to all the staff who do such a great job.

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