Para-sport legacy

Julie McElroy is a Scottish woman who has Cerebral Palsy which has resulted in walking difficulties along with a speech and hearing impairment and manual dexterity problems.Julie

She epitomises drive, motivation and passion.  Throughout her life she has succeeded in so many challenges. Julie is a woman who has so much to offer in terms of bringing ideas and new concepts to any project she undertakes. She possesses the determination and fortitude required for success. Despite her own hurdles that she has to overcome, never lets anything get the better of her. She is currently completing her PhD in due course on Assistive Technology.

Over the past three years Julie has been involved in various roles in Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games she believes that genuine inclusion in mainstream sporting events is no longer a pipe dream for disabled athletes.  Here she tells her journey of 2014 and beyond…

One of my first roles was that of journalist, columnist and disability commentator, a great opportunity to highlight inclusion in sport. I partnered up with the Glasgow Evening Times and Glasgow 2014 to capture the debate, what people with disabilities can aspire to with focus, discipline, determination and how do we change people’s perceptions along the way. I worked with Glasgow 2014 to take on each of the various Para-sports in 2014 with a coach or athlete from each event and try them out, demonstrating the commitment and skills required to succeed in each discipline.Julie 3

In November 2013, I was appointed as a Research Associate for Professor Gayle McPherson, University of the West of Scotland on the International Collaborative Research Team with Dr Laura Misener, Professor David Legg, (Mount Royal University), Professor David McGillivray (University of the West of Scotland) and Kyle Rich, PhD student,  to investigate the first comparative study of the social legacy of major sporting events, examining the impact of Para-sports being integrated into a mainstream sporting event before, during and after the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in November 2013 for nine months. The project fitted well with three of the Glasgow 2014 legacy goals: Active, Sustainable and Connected.

I also managed to find time to be a Clyde-sider. To have been one of the 15,000 Clyde-siders who played a part in the Commonwealth Games was an unforgettable experience.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of history. Together we have been the Clyde-siders!Julie 2

The journey has been an eye-opener for me and has demonstrated that inclusivity is possible in staging International Games. I had an incredible time trying out the five Para-sports for the Evening Times and Glasgow 2014. They were exhilarating and testing times as I was prepared for the unknown on this journey. What, however, was important to me was to reiterate the message, that there is a sport out there for everyone to be involved in.

When I was sent out to try the five Para-sports, I knew this journey would be a challenge as it takes leadership, tenacity and focus to deliver.

First up on my Para-sports journey was Lawn Bowls, which was hosted at Kelvingrove, a stunning backdrop of Glasgow University and in the heart of Glasgow’s West End. I met Ron McArthur, who is the Visually Impaired Coach for Scottish Blind Bowlers Association, along with Garry Brown, who is a potential contender for the Physical Impairment Team of Lawn Bowls. I had such a laugh with them but it is a hard sport to master when my manual dexterity wasn’t great. However, the camaraderie in the bowls community is warm and welcoming.

Next up was Athletics, this has to be defined as the most hilarious assignment I’ll ever do for the Evening Times but lots of questions were discussed. How can someone with Cerebral Palsy do the Long Jump? Due to the nature of my Cerebral Palsy which has inflicted me with co-ordination and muscle tightness, I could just about jump and when I landed head first in the sand, the sand went into mouth!
Powerlifting was next on the agenda and I was hoping I would be asked to lift the bar weight rather than do the bench-weight which was onerous! I could just about leverage 6kg in comparison to the IPC’s weight for Paralympian, which is between 70kg and 120kg to be a potential medal contender.

I couldn’t wait for next Para-sport assignment, Track Cycling at the Velodrome. I was feeling confident about this assignment as I had an advantage because I can ride a two-wheeler. No words could describe my delight when at last I accomplished a Para-sports goal! Alieen McGlynn, Paralympic Cyclist, was so encouraging and supportive too.

Julie 1At last the final Para-sports challenge was accomplished in swimming. I was coached by Paul Wilson who is Disability Performance Development Manager for Scottish Swimming and Stefan Hoggan who is formerly a Para-swimmer.

Swimming and Cycling were considered to be my strongest accomplishments during this journey. A great ending to undertaking these challenges! They have really pushed my boundaries but more importantly it has demonstrated what people with disabilities could do and can do by taking up one of these sports and maintaining an active life.

I believe the Commonwealth Games has been a catalyst to widen opportunities for those people with disabilities to get involved in sports in Scotland over time. It will only happen if human-power keeps it in the spotlight. This was the biggest sporting event Scotland has had so it is an important opportunity to draw on Glasgow 2014 to leverage and encourage participation in sport and to say that people with disabilities can be integrated into mainstream events.

There are one million disabled people in Scotland and the 2015 post Millennium Development Goals Development Framework provides us with a reference point on sports, health and well-being. The Scottish Government has rolled out a big programme called the Disability Delivery Plan which will cover three areas and one of them is sport and leisure.

The Commonwealth Games Federation has come a long way since 2002 in integrating Para-sports, and for Glasgow 2014, they pushed the boundaries, going from 15 to 22 medal events. The development of the Para-sports programme was a vision for the Organising Committee.

For me personally I want to ensure that I am still engaged with the Para-sports movement. Recently, I was involved with the IPC World Swimming Championship. More than 580 swimmers from nearly 70 countries converged in Glasgow to compete over seven days of competition at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre.

I believed Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games has left a legacy, brought about a culture change, and a sustainable legacy of inclusion and accessibility within our society.



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