INSPIRATIONS: Duo’s triple challenge to help increase access to disability sport

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Not everyone is into sport, but if you wanted to take one up, then the chances are whatever it was, most people could access the right facilities fairly easily.

But for those involved in disability sport, getting to the right facilities can be a game in itself – before proper training even starts.

And it is improving access to disability sport which Chichester firefighter and part-time gym instructor Ben Goodridge, 36, is determined to raise awareness of, and being an Olympic year, he thought the cause was worthy of an Olympic-style challenge.

In his spare time Ben is a coach at Westgate Leisure Centre and it was here he met Sophie Buckley, 22, who has cerebral palsy, and learnt about her passion for sport.

“While helping her with her training at the gym, she explained to me how she also likes to play a game called Boccia, which I later found out is a Paralympic game,” explains Ben. “However, in order to do this, she currently has to travel by herself in her wheelchair all the way to Brighton, more than 90 minutes each way, just to play for an hour.

“She’s remarkable how she travels all the way to Brighton just to play. Chatting to her I didn’t think I would be that committed to go to Brighton or Southampton just to play for an hour and I thought surely there must be something we could do.”

After what he describes as a ‘little thought and maybe a few too many drinks down the pub’, Ben came up with a major charity challenge which he hopes will raise enough money to kickstart a new boccia/multisport disability group at Westgate Leisure Centre.

The challenge is no mean feat: with his friend and keen triathlete Alistair McLean, from Chichester, they will swim across the Solent from Hurst Castle near Lymington to Colwell Bay on the Isle of Wight. Once on shore they will then cycle 70 miles around the island before heading back across the Solent in a kayak – all in one day. Importantly, they have timed the challenge to take place on August 29, the first day of the Paralympic Games.

“We thought it would be good to make the most of this massive sporting occasion and so help raise awareness of disability sport,” explains Ben. “Unfortunately we found out some quite sad and disturbing facts: 93 per cent of disabled people do not take part in regular sport and numbers are dropping, half of all young disabled people feel they missed out on sport at school because of their impairment and of those who do play, one in five believe they are not welcome in their local clubs.”

After discovering this information Ben and Ali decided they wanted to donate some of the money raised to The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) which aims to promote and improve facilities for disability sports.

Ben has always been sports oriented, playing lots of football and being a member of the University of Chichester’s rowing team while he was a student.

A qualified sports therapist with an Msc in sports medicine, Ben has run his own private clinic and lectured at the university and believes that for people not to be able to access sports facilities is a bad state of affairs, although he says Westgate Leisure Centre is a very good and pro-active centre, with plenty of disabled parking, and is currently undergoing a £20,000 refurbishment to the disabled changing rooms.

He and Ali hope the challenge will raise at least £2,000 which will help kit out the sports group and buy some additional disability sports equipment.

And any person who makes a donation to their challenge will automatically be given a free ticket for a charity raffle they have organised with prizes including vouchers for Alexandra Sports, a month’s free membership at Westgate, a meal for two at Brasserie Blanc, a vouchers for City Cycles, Sanctum Beauty Therapy, Sweatshop, Cineworld tickets, a voucher for El Castizo and personal training sessions with B-Fitness.

They will also be auctioning a signed 2012 shirt from Hampshire Cricket Club.

Sophie, who has been playing Boccia for around 12 years started competing around four years ago.

A social work student at the University of Chichester, Sophie also works part-time and does voluntary work and says the impact of Ben and Ali’s challenge will be huge.

“It will be very important to me because I will be able to compete and make a difference, but also my work is much more about getting disability sports in society.

“I’m unable to raise the money myself and don’t really have the expertise so to have someone to help is amazing.

“It represents the difficulty disabled people have in accessing sport.”

To make a donation see www.iow-olympic-challenge.co.uk, www.justgiving.com/IoWOlympicChallenge or text IOWC99 £xx to 70070.