Tokyo Paralympic Games: meet the McCowan family in search of gold in boccia

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Jamie McCowan & Mum Linda Train in Tokyo for Boccia Competition
Place: Tokyo, Japan Appointment: August 24-September 5 Time in Tokyo: BST +8
Blanket: To be continued on Radio 5 Live and on the BBC Sport website

The atmosphere in the McCowan family home in Dundonald, Ayrshire, is tense.

Sofas and tables are pushed up against the walls and the television is turned off, as the living room becomes a boccia pitch, where brothers Jamie, 26, and Scott, 30, go head-to-head.

Mum Linda or Daddy Gary take turns checking out dinner next door, but it’s hard to take your eyes off the mesmerizing action.

“You know when you hear about footballers playing in a cage when they were younger? It was up close, pretty physical. It was basically the Boccia equivalent of that,” says Jamie.

“Our family are so competitive that they’ve decided your mood for the whole week, whether you win or lose.”

Scott agrees and still bears the scars of a 12-game losing streak, though he’s making sure it is known that he has finally taken the “Lockdown Championship” bragging rights.

“In the end, I was broken, I literally couldn’t put one ball in front of the other for fear of being beaten again,” he says.

This has been the life of the McCowan family for the past 18 months as all four prepared to travel to Tokyo for the Paralympics. Scott and Jamie as Boccia BC3 singles athletes and in pairs with Linda and Gary as their sons’ ramp assistants.

The brothers suffer from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that gradually weakens muscles and shortens life expectancy to less than 40 years.

So when the coronavirus pandemic struck, the family couldn’t leave the house and had to prevent caregivers from coming due to the risk of infection.

“We had to take care of ourselves 24 hours a day, basically everything on our own,” says Linda. “So that was the big challenge. For a lot of people it might have been their quiet time, but for us it was our busiest time.”

“Don’t get me wrong, it was hard, really hard, but it was just something you had to do and keep going,” Gary adds.

“We have never been wrapped in cotton”

The McCowans aren’t the type to complain. Before Scott and Jamie’s condition made them need wheelchairs, they would compete alongside everyone on school sports day, which “wasn’t easy” for Linda to watch. , but demonstrates their determination to meet any challenge.

After reuniting with Boccia at 15 following a test session, they never looked back. There have been European medals, competitions all over the world, and now another chance at the Paralympic Games. Tokyo will be his older brother Scott’s third game and Jamie’s second.

“It changed our lives,” Scott says of Boccia. “I never even thought about the Paralympics, I was just thinking of something fun to do because I had never been able to participate in any sport properly.”

“Mom and Dad are a little modest about this, but I think it came from them,” Jamie adds. “The way we were raised, we were never wrapped in cotton, we were treated like everyone else.

“I think as soon as you change your life based on your disability, you don’t really go beyond that. You have to live your life as fully as possible.”

One of the main things the brothers want to do again after Covid is to go to concerts. Their love of music goes hand in hand with their passion for sports. Trips to see Elton John, The Who and Guns N ‘Roses have been on hold in recent months.

“There is nothing better than live music,” says Jamie. “It’s one of the great joys of listening to a band for years and finally being able to see them in person. That and the sport live, I don’t think there is anything better.”

The brothers meet in Toyko

It’s hard to think of brothers doing anything other than sports, as their competitive instinct shines through. Among the Boccia squad, they are compared to Roy Keane, in reference to the former Manchester United midfielder’s win-at-any-cost mentality.

When they talk about their previous Paralympic experiences, there is some reflection on the good time they had, but a latent disappointment that they did not finish among the medals.

“The dominant feeling is failure because you didn’t achieve what you set out to do,” Scott says. “I think the minute trying to be successful isn’t the main priority, so it’s probably time you gave it up.”

The pair have competed for their own lockdown championship over the past year and appeared in their Paralympic Games opener on Saturday. It was painful for Jamie, Scott winning 7-1.

“It’s always pretty straightforward for us,” says Jamie. “If I’m in the singles, my only goal is to finish first and where Scott ends up is up to him. But also, if I’m out and Scott was still in, he’s the player I want to win.”

“It’s basically the same mindset for any other game,” Scott adds. “We prepare in exactly the same way. It balances out, I think the people around him care more than we do.”

Linda is Jamie’s ramp assistant, while Gary does the same job for Scott, as the brothers use the ramps to propel the ball across the field. So, are parents becoming just as competitive?

“We’re also bad,” says Linda.

“Dad is the worst,” Scott intervenes.

“Yeah, that’s the worst, I’m not that bad.”

Living in such a competitive environment, you think, probably won’t hurt the Brothers’ Paralympic chances.

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