This sporting life
Open Door - August 2012 pages 10-11
I was working as a manager in retail when, about ten years ago, I was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. I am 50 this year and have many of the common symptoms of MS including fatigue, mobility problems and balance. I walk short distances with the help of a pair of crutches and do use a mobility scooter. I 'retired' soon after my diagnosis and I have tried to keep busy and active since then.
As a child I never really enjoyed competitive sports. I was bought up in a family where we walked the dogs out in the countryside and my father, who came from a farming background, taught me to ride horses and to shoot.
As an adult, all my spare time went into motorbikes. Soon after I gave up work I also sold my last motorbike. Riding it was not too much of a problem but arriving at a destination and walking around was. Maybe after over 30 years without any major injury and a relatively clean licence, it was time to move on anyway.
I have tried many sports and activities since, some returning to my childhood days, some new. I found out about Sportability a few years ago. Sportability is a charity that offers people with paralysis and neurological conditions opportunities to try different activities and sports all free of charge. Activities include gliding, canoeing, clay pigeon shooting, archery, microlighting and much more. I went quad biking and this proved to be as much fun as riding a motorbike. I soon became the local area organiser and it has been great to see so many people come along and try things they might have never done before and to see them coming back for more. Even better is hearing that they have taken up a new sport as a hobby.
One particular sport I wanted to try was shooting. Through Sportability we put on an event with Christchurch Gun Club and had a great afternoon with about 15 people shooting a variety of firearms. This helped me decide that shooting was for me. I joined the club, served my probationary period and got my firearms licence. I bought my first two guns with proceeds from my last motorbike. From there I have not looked back. I go to one of two clubs several times a week and have met many new friends. Socially it is very good - there is a lot of talking and putting the world to right every time. I also find the cleaning and maintenance very therapeutic and good for dexterity. Then there is the history. What else can you use on a regular basis that was designed in the nineteenth century and was decisive in winning the American Civil War or had won the West? I also own the same model rifle my Granddad would have carried on the Somme and Dad used during basic training in the RAF during World War II.
I am a range officer at both clubs. This involves running the range for the morning and ensuring it is kept to a high standard of safety. Being able to deal with any malfunctions of members' guns and keeping an eye on new probationary members carries a lot of responsibility but great sense of being part of the club.
Most types of shooting can be done standing or seated. Both clubs I belong to have been very welcoming as have other clubs that I have been to as a visitor. The National Small Bore Rifle Association (NSRA) is running Disabled Shooting Year to raise the profile of target shooting for people with a disability and to bring more people into the sport.
National Small-bore Rifle
Association (NSRA) www.nsra.co.uk
I also wanted to take up horse riding. I had great trouble finding stables that I was happy with and that had a suitable horse. Eventually I found Patrick, a retired hunter, who was stabled at a nearby private school. I will never forget my first ride on Patrick. My balance was poor and I was wobbling so much that I was thinking that riding might not be for me. We all persevered though, through many issues including painful leg cramps. We got to the stage where I could trot and was confident if Patrick spooked, which he often did as he did not like cars, cyclists and many other things. When we started going out on hacks through the school grounds, it was great leaving my crutches behind and have people see me as just another rider.
I have now ridden many different horses at local stables and whenever we are on holiday I try to get a ride. Highlights include Dartmoor, on a beach in Devon and particularly a two hour ride up a mountain side in Wyoming on a horse called Molly along with a cowboy and his dog. Very difficult terrain and remote, so no chance of asking to get off and a car to fetch me.
Riding has proved to be very good, giving me both a great sense of achievement and very good exercise as I am sure it has improved my balance and core stability. I would recommend it to anyone. Many other people with MS I know have taken it up through local RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) groups after hearing about it from me.
Surprisingly, something I never enjoyed as a child was sailing, despite living near the sea. Six years ago I went to a local Sailability group that uses accessible, unsinkable dinghies which are designed for people with disabilities. Here I learnt how to sail and got the bug. I sail solo regularly on a lake with one group and also with another using larger boats in Poole harbour. Sailing on a warm, sunny day is a wonderful way of getting some fresh air and sunshine.
0844 556 9550 / www.ryasailability.org.uk
Then there is my Tramper, the mobility scooter designed to specifications of the Disabled Ramblers. It costs a bit more than a standard scooter but is well worth it for the ability to go anywhere - rough tracks, mud, sand, snow, water, up raised kerbs - and in any weather. I have owned mine for five years and this has meant I can take our dog, Charlie, out for walks in local countryside and get to and see things I would never be able to without. Often I have come back soaked from pouring rain and covered in mud, feeling completely exhilarated being out in the country. We have a small trailer so we can take it further for days out, going on holiday or visiting outdoor events such as steam shows, agricultural shows and festivals.
Want to find the right sport or pastime for you? The Staying Active pages on the MS Trust website cover a wide range of sports and activities
Also see back issues of Open Door for other articles on sports and activities