Sport
An RHN resident prepares to play boccia

Boccia: the Paralympic sport helping RHN residents stay competitive

By Rhys Noye-Allen
June 6 2020, 12.25

Boccia at a Paralympic level may have been postponed until 2021 but residents at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability (RHN) are still battling it out.

The sport can be played individually or in teams and is similar to garden bowls, where players take it in turns to get their ball closest to the target.

Players are allowed varying degrees of support, such as ramps and assistants, but must propel the ball themselves.

The sport first appeared in the Paralympics in 1984 and offers those with physical disabilities the opportunity to rediscover their competitive spirit.

Boccia is a relatively small sport within the UK but south west London is home to the RHN Rollers, a team formed of patients at RHN in Putney.

Dr Richard Bennett, 52, is a keen member of the RHN Rollers and explained that friendship, mental stimulation and winning are all key parts of the boccia experience.

“It’s a really nice atmosphere, a nice group of people and just the right balance of camaraderie and friendship,” the research biologist explained.

“But there is also a determination to win, competition is definitely a big part of it.”

In 2011 Dr Bennett suffered a brain stem stroke in Portugal, where he was living with his wife, while researching plants to treat cancer.

The stroke left him paralysed but did not affect his personality, memory or IQ.

Boccia is a big part of Dr Bennett’s life at RHN and Amanda Goodair, a carer at the hospital, explained how important the sport is to all residents who take part.

“The sense of identity and being part of a team, whether it be internally or as part of the RHN Rollers team, is a real benefit. It’s something that people have really enjoyed,” she said.

“It’s really nice to have that identity, not only as someone being part of sports again, but also part of the winning team.”

Matches at RHN can attract spectators, especially if residents are taking on the directors of the hospital in the local derby.

Ms Goodair said: “Sometimes on a Saturday we get residents coming to have a look at our practice sessions with their families.

“When we have matches we tend to attract a bit of attention and if we play the Executive Team, then we definitely do!

“The executives and directors challenge our residents to a game and we assist them to play by the same rules as the patients.

“We have had two matches, the first one the directors won but we beat them in the second, so we definitely need a deciding match.”

She added: “It is one of the games we look forward to most, it is a lot of fun but the executives have a tendency to want to cheat!”

Image credits: The Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability

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