Boccia: the Paralympic sport that helps NHN residents stay competitive

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By Rhys Noye-Allen
June 6, 2020, 12:25 p.m.

Boccia at the Paralympic level may have been postponed until 2021, but residents at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability (RHN) are still battling.

The sport can be played individually or as a team and is similar to yard bowls, where players take turns bringing their ball closer to the target.

Players are allowed varying degrees of support, such as ramps and assistants, but must propel the ball themselves.

The sport first appeared at the Paralympic Games in 1984 and offers people with physical disabilities the opportunity to rediscover their competitive spirit.

Boccia is a relatively small sport in the UK, but South West London is home to the RHN Rollers, a team formed from RHN patients in Putney.

Dr Richard Bennett, 52, is an avid member of the RHN Rollers and explained that friendship, mental stimulation and winning are all key parts of the boccia experience.

“It’s a really nice atmosphere, a nice group of people and a good balance between camaraderie and friendship, explained the research biologist.

“But there is also a determination to win, competition is certainly a big part of that.”

In 2011, Dr Bennett suffered a stroke in Portugal, where he lived with his wife, while researching plants to treat cancer.

The stroke left him paralyzed but did not affect his personality, memory or IQ.

Boccia is a big part of Dr. Bennett’s life at RHN and Amanda Goodair, a caregiver at the hospital, explained how important the sport is to all residents who participate.

“The feeling of identity and being part of a team, whether internally or within the RHN Rollers team, is a real advantage. It was something that people really appreciated,” she said.

“It’s really nice to have that identity, not only as someone back in the sport, but also as a member of the winning team.”

Matches at the NHN can attract spectators, especially if the residents face off against hospital managers in the local derby.

Ms Goodair said: “Sometimes on Saturdays residents come to see our training sessions with their families.

“When we have games we tend to get a bit of attention and if we play the executive team then we definitely do!

“Executives and directors challenge our residents to a game and we help them play by the same rules as patients.

“We had two matches, the first won by the directors but we beat them in the second, so we definitely need a decisive match.”

She added: “It’s one of the games we’re looking forward to the most, it’s great fun but the leaders tend to cheat!”

Image credits: The Royal Neuro-Disability Hospital

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