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Disability sport boss urges creativity to help everyone be active

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Welsh Paralympic stars can lead the way in inspiring disabled people and those with long-term health conditions to try and stay fit and healthy during the current lockdown.

Athletes such as Nathan Stephens and wheelchair motocross world champion Lily Rice have already posted videos online showing ways of remaining active.

But now Disability Sport Wales (DSW) chief executive Fiona Reid is on a mission to broaden those messages to everyone in Wales with a disability - especially those with certain health risks that might restrict their ability to exercise outdoors.

The support, she says, also needs to be directed towards people who may have difficulties in getting connected online.

With leisure centres closed, exercise classes postponed, and social distancing limiting everyone’s ability to stay fit in fun face-to-face settings, the extra difficulties facing people with disabilities have been brought into sharper focus.

Getting out in the fresh air can be big challenge for some, which is why successful campaigns – such as Get Out, Get Active – now have to be adapted.

Athletes like Stephens, Rice, sprinter Olivia Breen and Pembrokeshire coach and volunteer Nicola Hayton have all posted a series of videos on the DSW YouTube channel, aimed at helping people stay healthy.

DSW are hoping that while the elite athletes can provide the motivation, others will step forward with the creativity to show how to adapt.

“We have obviously got communities of disabled people who aren't able to engage with their physical activity in the way they would normally do so on a weekly basis,” says Reid.

“The elite athletes are also unable to do the same intense training in specific facilities with specific equipment. 

“So, there is much more of a connection, between the way in which the elite athletes are adapting and continuing to be active, and those individuals who are at the early engagement phase or the community participation aspect.

“Nobody now has access to facilities. People only have what is around them. It might be just a couple of Lucozade bottles that are to hand.

“So, the elite athletes can perhaps provide the motivation, but the people who are more at a community engagement level can supply the creativity – the way of making the best of things and connecting with others – so that we have a cycle of inspiration.”

Since the new rules restricting people’s movement came in, there has been rush of keep fit, stay active material posted by high profile sports people or motivational celebrities like Joe Wicks.

But not all of those guides and lessons will reflect the reality of life when it comes to the functional ability of some people.

DSW are working with a number of their athletes to make sure there will be more video content that offers relevant tips and instruction material.

Some of that will be aimed at helping families with disabled children to make sure they are able to play and exercise together in their homes and gardens.

“There is a huge black cloud over us at present that is having a massive impact on people’s lives, but looking for the silver linings is what’s going to keep us all going,” says Reid, who has worked with DSW for the past 12 years.

“We all need to keep motivated and remain enthusiastic – whether we are talking about elite sports people, or those who just want to remain active at their level.

“We have to inspire each other and connect with each other – and that has to be more than just online because we know there’s a big proportion of disabled people who don’t have online access or they’re not familiar with social media.”

These are early days to work out what staying connected might mean when there are strict limits, but it could mean just an encouragement to be good neighbours – to make sure those that live nearby have the ability to stay active.

The Get Out, Get Active campaign – a UK-wide programme that has Welsh locations in Wrexham, Pembrokeshire and Rhondda Cynon Taff - has been delivering yoga and Zumba sessions for both disabled and non-disabled people.

With organised sport having come to a halt across the country, these others forms of fitness activities are certain to become even more important, provided ways can be found to transfer them to the home setting.

That’s especially important for disabled people with other health issues who may have been advised not to go out for their normal activity on foot or in a wheelchair.

“What we do know at this current time, is that we don’t know everything about this,” adds Reid.

“There are hundreds and thousands of disabled people in Wales who are coming up with brilliant ideas. We want them to get in touch so that we can support the showcasing of great activity and also pointing out the things they’re finding challenging.

“We are very much all in this together.”