By Jack Scofield (he/him)
P.E. two letters in succession which fill most able bodied people with dread. But those with physical disabilities a whole wave of emotions flood them. Hi, I’m Jack. I’m a part time – full time wheelchair user and have been since the age of 7.
When I was in primary school we had P.E. every Tuesday and Thursday. This meant: getting changed, going out to the field or sports hall; and doing some kind of sport that seems enjoyable to everyone.....it wasn’t. The first problem was getting changed itself: The act of undressing on a bad day, to put on some god awful shorts and a polo shirt that showed swollen joints and the like. On bad days I couldn’t do this myself. I had to ask a teacher, in front of my whole class to help me put on my shorts. As a 7 year old this was mortifying. So before we even stepped out of the changing room I was struggling
We all assemble outside on the field and the teacher would make us get into a circle and do some kind of stretch. Well the joke was on her. I had already done these in physio. 1-0 to me. This was the most enjoyable part of the lesson. Seeing everyone else bend down to their toes to stretch their hamstrings and I was just like “are you guys finding this hard?” I was a bit of a cocky 7 year old to be honest.....
Then, the dreaded activity. “Today we are going to be doing athletics” the whole class cheered.... I just groaned. The class then proceeded to have races, javelins and all of the discipline’s you can imagine. For them: great fun. For me: torture. Every discipline I had a go at, I couldn’t not, I didn’t want to be left out. But then after every attempt I would hobble my way to a bench and collapse in a silent manner and only rise when it was a new thing to do.
This forced physical exercise caused so much pain and discomfort that I began to plan my hospital appointments around them or I would feel ill so I didn’t have to do it. School said I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to but when does a 7 year old want to feel left out?
This happened week in week out. It caused me to start to hate doing anything physical. I can remember speaking to my psychologist and almost crying my eyes out because “I just want to be normal. I just want to play football” but alas all she could do is cheer me up and ship me out.
P.E for a lot of children isn’t fun. It means breathlessness, isolation and a feeling of failure when you don’t win. But for disabled people P.E lessons take on such a different tone. It becomes less about if you come first or last but more if you are able to take part. Yes schools can offer help, they can offer you to sit out, change it so you are doing something sat on the floor. But then you know that the rest of the class had to alter what they were doing because of you.
Throughout my primary school life this was the kind of attitude that I adopted. If I spoke up then the rest of the class wouldn’t be as happy. I started to resent my body. How it never helped with anything, how it was always getting in the way of everything I do. This changed. This negative attitude changed and I can pinpoint the exact date and reason why: July 6th 2011. It was when I started wheelchair basketball.
I found out about a wheelchair basketball club from an open day for high school. The teacher put me in contact with the captain and I had all the dates and was ready to go. I grab my sticks out of the car and proceed to enter the sports hall. I was not ready for what I saw. There were false legs just casually lying around, there was people crawling on their hands and having a laugh with each other. In general there was an acceptance of how people were. It was amazing.
I popped into a wheelchair the club provided and suddenly I was off. I was part of the team. The first session I had I learned how to push a sports wheelchair with a ball, the next how to shoot (to be honest I’m still working on that), after that how to defend, how to pick, how to do different plays that end up with a point. Each week something came something new, something exciting. All these new skills and experiences have truly shaped me as a person and helped me grow bit by bit. I now train weekly and have games with other clubs in a league.
I had always felt different from the usual 9 or 10 year old because of my condition. I had always felt cast aside because I used sticks. But here, in the sports hall, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t walk, it didn’t matter if you had cerebral palsy. It didn’t matter if you were able bodied. Everyone just accepted how things were and got on with life.
This was revolutionary for me. I had always resisted against my disability. I had always fought against going in the chair because I would be different. But now, it’s who I am. It’s who I was meant to be.
I continued with this sport and still do to this day. It’s amazing. Exhilarating. Thought provoking. But something I didn’t expect it to be was humorous. In particular the kind of disabled humour only disabled people can make together. For example, a friend of mine has no legs: we call him legoless from Lord of the Rings. He doesn’t mind. We have a laugh everyone just moves on with it. It’s how it should be. It shouldn’t be forced down people’s throats to accept that someone is different. It should just occur naturally. Like this.
have so many different stories about basketball and other sports I partake and I would love to share them with you but for now I will leave you on a final message:
Acceptance. It’s the key to understanding, it’s the key to progression, and it’s the key to moving forwards. That’s all from me
If you would like to engage in any kind of adaptive sport search online for it! If you want to join a basketball club here are some names and links:
(Originally Published 15/11/19)