Claire Taggart, Paralympic Boccia sportswoman has found time in her demanding schedule to write a guest blog for us! It has been announced this week that Claire has been chosen to represent Team GB at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and will be heading off to Japan very soon. Claire gives us a little peek into her life as a Paralympian, tells us all about Boccia and how she would like to see disability in sport represented in future. We are so proud to have Claire as an ableMove ambassador and we are proud to support her as she prepares to travel to Tokyo.
I’m Claire Taggart, I’m 26 and live in Larne, Northern Ireland. I have a physical disability, dystonia, which causes my muscles to contract uncontrollably, and means that my limbs and body are in abnormal and uncomfortable postures. It affects my whole body, and as a result, I cannot walk or stand due to contractures, so I use a powerchair to move around.
I first got involved in boccia in 2014, a local club had been set up and I went along as more of a social activity and as a place to meet others with similar support needs as myself. From there, I progressed to the NI league very quickly and once I was classified, I went to my first competition in Wigan, 2014. I was approached by the GB Boccia team at this event as I was a new player on the scene and then invited to a talent try out day where I later was invited to join the world-class programme of GB Boccia (now Boccia UK).
My transition from playing the sport recreationally to being a funded athlete on a WCP was only about 6 months, so a very steep learning curve and change for both myself and my parents. I competed at Rio 2016 Paralympics after being in the WCP for only 18 months, and although our performance meant we bowed out of the competition early, the experience lit a fire within me, and I knew this is what I wanted to do as a career.
So What is Boccia Exactly?
Boccia is an incredibly tactical, precise and nail-biting sport with unbelievable accuracy. It is played all over the UK as well as globally, with the opportunity for aspiring and talented athletes to compete at the Paralympic Games, the pinnacle of disability sporting careers. It is played by people with severe physical disabilities, with no Olympic counterpart. The concept of the game is getting your colour balls (either red or blue – decided by coin toss) closer to the jack (white target ball) than your opponents balls. Boccia has developed and spread significantly over the past few decades with many opportunities for international competition as well as plentiful domestic competitions and clubs throughout the UK.
Obviously with the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to COVID 19, and the introduction of shielding for vulnerable people, everything was on pause for a number of months. We as a squad learnt to develop ourselves via our online network, with regular calls both social calls and sport-related calls. As the first lockdown began to lift, I was in a privileged position of being able to return to my training venue as it remained closed and I was the only person using it, so from June/July 2020, I was able to experience some normality with regular and consistent training. From this point on and throughout the subsequent lockdowns, I was able to continue training at this venue because of the elite sports exemption and I really credit this to be a massive part of how prepared and ready I now feel for the games.
Boccia is a little known sport, it’s often a surprise when you mention it and someone else actually knows what it is or how it is played. More often we are faced with blank faces, and once you explain it and perhaps show some videos or a website link, then people understand and become fans of our often concealed sport.
Disability in Sports
Representation of disability sport in the media and commercially has come a long way in the past 30+ years, but there is still some length to go. Further steps moving forward to support disability in sport, could feature high support needs athletes in advertising and media campaigns, to spread awareness and knowledge that having a severe physical disability does not mean that you cannot have goals and aspirations to compete at the highest levels, including the Paralympics.
Claire and ableMove
I met Josh (Founder of ableMove) online after seeing the ableSling and sent a message. Josh and I then had a conversation and he kindly agreed to gift me a sling, even going as far as to deliver it to a hotel where I was staying before my flight the next day to Zagreb! I can honestly credit the ableSling as a product that has made such a difference in my career as an elite athlete, but also maintenance of my physical condition on flights. As a regular traveller, I often fly twice a month to mainland UK, and in a typical year will do 4/5 international trips to competitions. Since receiving the ableSling, it has meant that transfers from my wheelchair to the aisle seat, and into my plane seat are done in comfort, with care and most importantly with dignity.
The ableSling material and colour scheme means that it blends into the wheelchair users seating system and it is inconspicuous meaning that its discrete nature is not an obvious stand out feature. The ableSling’s ability to provide comfort and safety when being transferred by airline staff is key, and the security I feel on each transfer using the ableSling has been second to none, compared to what can usually be stressful and potentially time-pressured situation.
My plans for the next 12-18 months include competing in Tokyo 2021, developing my stationery shop (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/NiftyNotebooksUK ) further, whilst continuing with my Open University BSc Forensic Psychology. The pandemic has meant I have had time to reflect and I would like to appreciate the small things more.
Josh Wintersgill, Founder of ableMove says; “I and the whole ableMove team are absolutely delighted that Claire has been chosen to represent Great Britain in Tokyo. Highlighting disability in sport like Claire is doing is vital to ensuring we break down even more barriers so that everyone can explore new possibilities without restrictions.”