Calamity struck a few days before I was due to attend the Sports Fest event in Sheffield: Pete woke to find that his knee was extremely painful and he could barely walk. Clearly, this was not great for him; it also had a knock-on effect for me. I couldn’t drive there myself and then take part in any activities – I’d only have the energy for one or the other.
We made a right pair, hobbling about the house. In fact, I was suddenly the more mobile parent!
There then followed many frantic phone calls to all my friends to sell the idea of an unusual day out at a couple of days’ notice. Most were happy to come in principle but unsurprisingly already had things arranged. Fortunately, just when I had all but given up hope, Steph picked up my text and came to the rescue!
We had a great day out! Once there, I headed straight for the archery area. I’d always fancied having a go at archery and now I had the chance. My instructor was very helpful in showing me exactly how to hold the bow and adjust my aim. I initially used a very light child’s practice bow, then moved on to a heavier one whilst sitting down, which I actually found easier. I am pleased to report that most of the arrows found the target! Afterwards, another volunteer took my details and will be forwarding me information about archery clubs near me – so watch this space!
I also tried rifle shooting. I know that sounds like an ominous couple of activities but there is no hidden agenda! I just thought they would suit someone less mobile and with decent eyesight, honest! Anyway, I discovered that my arm was too short to hold the rifle appropriately and shoot. (Probably much to the relief of everyone who knows me!)
One thing I tried, having had absolutely no thought of doing so beforehand, was horse riding! There was a rather impressively real-looking mechanical horse to ride. There was no queue; I was feeling adventurous, or mad, so I jumped on. Well, more guided on by some very lovely and knowledegeable volunteers. Before I knew it I was cantering rather too fast and gripping horse and reins tightly. Rather too tightly it turned out: it goes faster the tighter you grip. So, totally counter-intuitively, I had to relax my legs and arms, and sit back in the saddle. It worked … well, that and the fact that the lovely lady pressed some buttons so that she could control entirely what speed we went. It was really good fun and apparently they use such a device initially with novices, which seems like a great idea. They reassured me that they always use very placid horses with beginners … I’ve got leaflets for that too!
We did a spot of chatting with a celebrity as well. Hannah Cockroft, double Paralympic gold medal-winning sprint wheelchair racer (and local Halifax hero!), was at the athletics stand, happily handing out her medals to everyone to hold and having her photo taken. (Yes, obviously, we got photos too!) There were lots of youngsters around her and she was cheery and encouraging to them all as they tried out the racing chairs or simply wanted to be photographed with her.
There were several Paralympic athletes helping out at the different sports stands, easily distinguished by their Team GB tracksuits and distinctive red trainers. Three of them also gave a short talk about their experience at the Paralympics, how they had got into sports initially and what sport meant to them. That was when I discovered that one of the women who had been talking to me at the horseriding stand was actually Sophie Wells who had won team gold in dressage as well as two silver medals! Also speaking were Will Bayley, the very enthusiastic table tennis player who won a silver and bronze, and powerlifter, Ali Jawed.
I also had the chance to try rowing, using a machine that kept my legs in place so all the effort was in my arms. I noticed that someone was punching my details into a laptop and before I knew it I was in a race with the two chaps either side of me! My personal coach encouraged me to speeds I didn’t know I could achieve … but I still lost! I think I’ll stick to two-man canoes, where my input isn’t essential!
Finally, I tried hand cycling. It’s deceptive: you think it looks very gentle as you’re practically lying down but then you have to put all your effort into your arms to move. Apparently they are very aerodynamic and you can go pretty fast for the effort put in. (Though cheating on the back of a tandem still wins for me!)
It was lovely to see so many people there, particularly youngsters whom, you never know, we might see in Rio in 2016! But it also gave you a chance to try something new. It’s funny, I’ve never been what you’d call sporty and before having MS I would never have gone to a day dedicated to trying out different sports but now, with MS, here I was! See where getting on a tandem has taken me!
Also, Steph was mulling something over all the way back and when I got home I received an email from her: she’d just bought a bike! The spirit of Being Inspired continues to spread!