These kids can!
Berkshire’s first ever disabled regatta – and what these children could teach us about resilience.
It’s regatta season! A vision of floaty dresses, straw boaters, picnics, oh, and, traditionally, a serious amount of muscle and Lycra on the water
Once you get past the phwaor factor, you realise there’s actually lot of skill, dedication and commitment from the athletes taking part. I feel tired just watching, but that could be lethal combo of Champagne and sunshine.
Forget about the social aspect (I know it’s hard), these events are truly inspiring, but rarely would I describe them as emotional. The regatta I attended last week was that and much more. I was incredibly privileged to be invited to the first ever Rivertime Accessible Regatta at Bisham Abbey. It’s an event that gives disabled and special needs children the opportunity to compete on the water with their peers in a fun environment – and was opened by Royal workhorse Princess Anne.
Not only did the Princess Royal officially open the event, she chatted to the very important charity bods, the awesome kids and even handed out a few medals. She was kind, engaging and very patient (Her Royal Highness also has a cracking pair of pins. Just saying).
Organised by the Rivertime Boat Trust and the charity Give Them A Sporting Chance (of which HRH is a guardian), a phenomenal 350 young people from 20 local schools, took park. They competed in bell boating, accessible sailing an power boating, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, giving them the same sporting opportunities as other young people freely enjoy (and sometimes take for granted).
Amazing right? Especially when you consider the broad spectrum of disabilities – sensory, physical and mental. To top it off they also got the chance to rub shoulder with members of Team GB: Naomi Riches, London 2012 Paralympic rowing gold medallist; Anne Dickens gold medal winner at the 2016 Paralympics, Steve Williams a double gold medal Olympic rowing champion and Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian and new Chair of UK Sport, rowing legend Dame Katherine Grainger. And Katherine sidled over for a chat with Muddy.
What brings you down here?
“I’m just here as a supporter today. Georgina Harland, who’s one of our Olympic medallists in modern pentathlon, sits on one of the charity boards, mentioned it to me. And Bishop Abbey is where I came when I first moved down to join the National Rowing Team 20 years ago. So it’s like coming home.”
How hard is to get on the water for these incredible young people?
“I’ve never seen an event like this. With more than 300 kids dealing with different special needs and disabilities, they could see these things as obstacles, but actually here everyone can have a go. It’s a lovely message. Getting on the water is not really about being able or disabled, a lot of it’s about confidence. In all cases you need brilliant volunteers. Thanks to their passion for the sport, they are able to help people into boats, reassuring them and teaching them enough skill to paddle about the river.”
Will we see you bobbing about these parts?
“I live in Maidenhead now and was in the water this morning in a rowing boat. On days like this, all the pain and misery fades and I’m like, ‘I loved very minute of it’. The river’s such a special, living ,breathing space to have a job. It’s wonderful seeing crews, who are top juniors in the country, and people who have never been in a boat mixing with each other on the Thames.”
When you’re not casually rowing, what are you up to?
“I’m very very busy. I genuinely thought when I finally stopped my seven-day a week job on the river I would be sitting around watching a lot of daytime TV with my feet up or catching up with friends and family, but there’s always something to get involved in. So I haven’t really stopped.”
She’s being incredibly modest, because Katherine’s about to take over as chair of UK Sport – the country’s elite sports funding body. She’ll be in the hot seat to drive future Olympic success and with her CV, I think the future’s as bright as her Olympic bling.
I’m not going to lie, it was humbling. You take for granted the opportunities life gives you. But as Katherine (we’re mates now) says, regardless of your physical or mental challenges getting out on the water can be hard.
What I loved about all these kids was that there was no way they were going to give up. They weren’t interested in how good or bad they looked, they just wanted to have a go and experience the thrill of being on the water (or in it). They’re not people who want to sit on the sidelines watching the action with sadness and envy. They are in the thick of it, giving it their all. It’s brilliant.
It’s definitely inspired me to put my vanity and pride aside to try new things and it’s something I want my boys to embrace in their lives too.