The legacy of last year’s Paralympic Games is being perpetuated locally by one man’s newfound enthusiasm for a little-known sport.
Colin Gibbons from Masterton Road, Stamford had never heard of boccia until he saw it played live at last summer’s Paralympic Games in London and he was hooked immediately.
The 27-year-old, who has been wheelchair-bound with a mitochondrial disorder since he was 14, realised with a sense of excitement that he would be able to play it.
As a sport for people with disabilities, boccia does not yet have a very high profile but Colin is hoping to change that. Boccia is similar to bowls but is played with soft leather balls which players can roll, throw, kick or use a ramp to move.
“As soon as I saw it played I said to my parents: I could do that. We came home and Googled it and I said to them - you know I really could do that.” Colin said.
Stamford Arts Centre ballroom is now his practice court and he plays whenever he can. A member of the Camboccia Club in Cambridge where he plays every other week, Colin will soon be making his team debut in a match in Mansfield later this month. He also plays at Peterborough, where taster sessions are held with a view to forming a club. Colin also featured on Anglia television news recently alongside Paralympic gold medal-winner Jonnie Peacock who was at a Camboccia event marking the anniversary of the 2012 games.
Colin, who lives with his parents, also writes a blog on the sport.
Taking it up has helped him physically and has given him a new skill to work on.
“In recent times my physical condition has deteriorated significantly, but I love boccia, it’s a great sport. It has been very good for my health and fitness and has been the catalyst for some good lifestyle changes. I am keen to spread the word and get people playing so that others can benefit,” he said.
Boccia is a very inclusive sport that can be played with any disability and at any age.
“I have begun taking it more seriously and practising up to four times a week. It’s a game of skill and tactics rather than power or speed,” he said.
Colin’s mitochondrial disorder is genetic and centres around faulty energy production in the mitochondria of body cells, affecting any organ, muscle or nerve, in his case mainly nerves. Every case is different and currently there is no cure.
Born in Vancouver, Colin moved with his family to Stamford from Canada when he was six. He had no symptoms until the age of 12 and was still playing football and attending Queen Eleanor School. After his sight became affected he moved to the RNIB New College at Worcester. During the last 15 years the condition has grown steadily worse and he now describes himself as moderately-severely disabled. It is hard to follow his speech and other symptoms include a clenched right hand and ataxic, or jerky, movements.
“You just get on with it,” says Colin, who likes to concentrate on the positive aspects of his life.
He has worked as a disabled model and film extra - he appeared in The Bill on television - but had to give it up when photo-shoots became too difficult.
“I don’t regret it. I had some lovely times and have some great memories,” he said.
He has studied law with the Open University and was a student of philosophy and politics, living in halls at the University of East Anglia for 18 months until forced to give it up. An enthusiastic member of the Rotary Club of Stamford St Martin’s, he once belonged to Market Harborough Speakers Club and was MC at a concert for 250 people.
He also has a Canine Partners assistance dog called Enya who fetches things for him, helps with his stairlift and has now been trained to retrieve boccia balls after he has thrown them.
Colin, who loves living in Stamford, is training hard for his first real match and doesn’t rule out making the national team for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Who knows - with the right support - where things might lead?” he asked.
Colin wants anyone interested in playing to get in touch with Peterborough coach Matt Taylor - e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Colin’s blog at http://legacylondon2012.wordpress.com or e-mail him at email@example.com for information or to arrange a talk or demonstration.
Colin’s mum Avril said activities for young people with physical disabilities were hard to find.
“Now that Colin has found boccia he has something with exciting potential and places he can go to where being disabled is fully accepted. We are really pleased for him. He finds it fun and interesting and it has improved his stamina, provided him with associated interests and he is making new friends. I hope that he can help other people become interested in playing and get to feel the benefits for themselves.”
Recently Colin teamed up with fellow Camboccia Club player Paul Akers to give a demonstration to the mayor and mayoress of Stamford, Brian and Brenda Sumner, and members of the Legacy Youth Club at Trinity Methodist Church in Stamford.
Colin and Paul then played against youth club members, who found the game much more difficult than they had anticipated. Coun Sumner, an experienced bowls player, failed to score at all and the wheelchair players won by 38 points to 7.
The Legacy Youth Club meets every Wednesday at the church and is open to youngsters of secondary school age.