For many people with disabilities, sport is inaccessible. However, boccia, a ball sport similar to bowls, allows people to participate in a sport that not only keeps them active but also improves their well-being.
Boccia England, the sport’s governing body, has conducted research which showed that 89% of players in the game – one of only two Paralympic Games games that do not have an Olympic equivalent – report that it has a positive impact on their daily lives. life and, for 65% of respondents, it is the only sport they practice.
Originally designed for people with cerebral palsy, boccia is now played by a range of people with disabilities and involves propelling a ball to land as close to a marker ball as possible. The ball may be thrown using a player’s hand or foot or by guiding it along a ramp, or with the help of an assistant, depending on the severity of the player’s impairment.
Amy Darlow is a boccia player from Sheffield who won gold and silver medals at the 2018 Special Olympics. She spoke to Now Then about her experience with the sport.
When did you start playing boccia?
I started playing boccia in 2013 when I went to college in Portland, to get out of my room and give myself something to do. Once I was done in Portland I joined the Sheffield boccia team with Mark Dolan at Talbot Sheffield on Monday nights.
How has starting to play boccia affected your life?
It gave me confidence. I also made friends playing boccia and going to the club.
Thanks to boccia, I was able to travel across the country to compete. Before boccia, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to travel to places like Liverpool, Scotland and many more.
You won gold and silver medals at the 2018 Special Olympics. How did you feel? Did you ever think you would do so well?
It was one of my biggest accomplishments in my boccia career to date. Me and Sam, who also became one of my best friends through boccia, played doubles and won gold. It was even more special because we were playing together instead of against each other.
It makes me feel good when I win medals and I love coming home to show off my medals to my mum and stepdad and they are really proud of me. I felt really happy with myself in Scotland. It was a good experience and I really enjoyed it. It was a great first time in Scotland.
How has Covid affected your boccia game?
I stopped training in March with my team. Covid is the longest period I’ve had but I didn’t want to stop training.
Throughout the confinement, Boccia England has set up the Rainbow Cup. Each week there were new challenges and a leader board was made nationally. I am lucky to have enough space to train every week with the support of my AMs. Mark, my coach, kept our team together and motivated by hosting Zoom team meetings and virtual boccia competitions.
When the confinement eased, I was then able to go to my nearest gym and train with the support of my AMs. Thanks to Covid, I sometimes had a hard time keeping up with boccia, but I managed to keep going and I’m glad I did.
What would you say to someone who is interested in boccia but feels shy or lacks confidence?
I would say go for it because it is really fun and you will enjoy playing. Participating in competitions is a very good experience. Although boccia is a sport for the disabled, I am spoken to as an athlete and not as a disabled person. Boccia is a professional sport and I feel respected on and off the court.
Do you have any goals you haven’t achieved yet?
My main goal is to go to the Paralympics. My grandmother always said she would like to see me on TV. Nana was involved in all my sports, including boccia, and she supported me in everything I do.
To learn more about boccia and how you can get involved, contact Boccia England.