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The disability sport that’s improving lives

“I am spoken to as an athlete, not someone with disabilities. Boccia is a professional sport and I feel respected when on court and off court,” says Sheffield boccia player Amy Darlow.

Boccia equipment balls
Australian Paralympic Committee/Australian Sports Commission

For many disabled people, sport is inaccessible. However, boccia, a ball sport similar to bowls, is allowing people to participate in a sport that not only keeps them active but also improves their wellbeing.

Boccia England, the governing body for the sport, carried out research that showed that 89% of players of the game – one of only two games in the Paralympics that does not have an Olympic equivalent – report that it has a positive impact on their daily life and, for 65% of respondents, it’s the only sport they play.

Initially designed for people with cerebral palsy, boccia is now played by a range of disabled people and involves propelling a ball to land as close to a marker ball as possible. The ball can be thrown using a player’s hand or foot or by guiding it down a ramp, or with the help of an assistant, depending on the severity of the player’s impairment.

A wheelchair user playing boccia
Boccia England

Amy Darlow is a boccia player from Sheffield who won gold and silver medals in the 2018 Special Olympics. She spoke to Now Then about her experience with the sport.

When did you first start playing boccia?

I first started playing boccia in 2013 when I went to Portland college, to get out of my room and to give me something to do. Once I finished at Portland I went on to join the boccia Sheffield team with Mark Dolan at Talbot Sheffield on Monday nights.

How did starting to play boccia affect your life?

It has given me confidence. I also made friends from playing boccia and going to the club.

Through boccia I have been able to travel cross country to compete. Before boccia I would not have had opportunities to travel to places such as Liverpool, Scotland and many others.

You won gold and silver medals in the 2018 Special Olympics. How did that feel? Did you ever think you would do so well?

It was one of my biggest achievements 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 made extra special because we were playing together instead of against.

It makes me feel good when I win medals and I love coming home to show my mum and my stepdad my medals and they are really proud of me. I felt really pleased with myself in Scotland. It was a good experience and I really enjoyed it. It was a great first time up in Scotland.

Amy Darlow playing boccia
Boccia England

How did Covid affect your boccia playing?

I stopped training in March with my team. Covid is the longest time I’ve had off but I didn’t want to stop training.

Throughout lockdown, Boccia England set up the Rainbow Cup. Every week, there were new challenges and a leader board was done nationally. I’m lucky to have enough space to train weekly with support with my PAs. Mark, my coach, kept our team together and motivated by doing team Zoom meetings and virtual boccia competitions.

When lockdown eased, I could then go to my closest sports hall and train with the support of my PAs. Through Covid at times I found it difficult to keep going with boccia but managed to keep going and I’m glad I did.

What would you say to somebody who is interested in playing boccia but feels shy or doesn’t feel confident?

I would say go for it as it’s really fun and you will enjoy playing. Going to competitions is a really good experience. Although boccia is a disability sport I am spoken to as an athlete, not someone with disabilities. Boccia is a professional sport and I feel respected when on court and off court.

Do you have any goals you haven’t met yet?

My main goal is to go to the Paralympics. My Nana always said that she would love to see me on the TV. Nana was involved with all my sports including boccia and she supported me and everything I do.

To find out more about boccia and how you can get involved, contact Boccia England.

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