Freya, tell me a little about yourself…
I’ve not always been disabled; prior to being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy I was playing county level football and rugby, and had trials with Arsenal. I was disabled in 2010, it was sudden on-set and I became wheelchair bound in December of that year. At that point I was a bit like “what can I do now?” I can’t not do sport, I’ve grown up with it from an early age.
How did you move from football to wheelchair basketball?
I had to Google to see what sports I could play as a wheelchair user; the first one I found was basketball. I dropped them an e-mail and it went from there really. I went to a training session and things escalated. I’ve been playing for around two years now and I’m in the GB development squad on the pathway to Rio. I flew back from a Paralympic festival in Holland at the weekend, where we competed against the Netherlands and Germany. We came second!
You said you had to Google ‘wheelchair sports’ to find out what you could get involved with, why is that?
I didn’t really know much about what was on offer, obviously this was before 2012 and now it is a bit different. I found basketball by luck really.
You say ‘it’s a bit different’, have you noticed a change in the awareness of disability sport since the Paralympic games last summer?
Yes, of course. Especially with events like Panathlon getting kids involved from a young age. I was lost in the system with PE. I did table tennis for three terms; the same thing over and over again, it got really boring. As soon as they knew that I was playing basketball and realized that I could play sports they got a bit better at integrating me into PE lessons. Events like Panathlon really help, as teachers, parents, helpers, sometimes even the students themselves don’t know what there is out there for them to do.
So the Paralympics helped raises awareness then?
Certainly the Paralympics helped, but I think the gap is getting smaller between the profiles of the sports. It helps in a sport like basketball; there are not many changes in the rules so people immediately know what is going on. Knowing that people view the sport on the same level at it’s able-bodied equivalent is a huge boost for the child.
Going forward, what needs to happen to highlight disability sports?
I was at Westminster a few weeks ago discussing what else can be done to highlight disability sports, my view is that when children go to their hospital appointments there should be people there to tell them what they can do. Another thing I see as key is physiotherapy. I never did physiotherapy, I though it was boring. But if you had combined it [physiotherapy] with a gym or sport environment I’d have been more inclined to do it. The physiotherapy is really important, it gives you the strength to be a little bit more independent and do some things for yourself, which helps mentally.
Why is being able to participate in sport so important for disabled people?
Not only is it beneficial for improving your lifestyle through being healthy, but it also helps your social skills. Everyone is in the same boat and it takes you away from the hospital appointments, the physiotherapy. Sometime kids get bullied at school, but here everyone is in the same situation and playing sport it helps to clear you mind.
Do you see yourself as a role model for the children here today?
It wasn’t until I started coming to these sorts of events that I realised the kids do look up to you. If they can see that someone with a disability has gone on to achieve something then it gives them hope, but it’s also pretty inspiring for me having people looking up at me and saying I want to do what you do.
You’re here to give out the medals later, have you tried all the sports on offer?
No, unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity, but I’d like to give the wheelchair racing a go. When you’re learning to use a wheelchair you’re taught to be sensible and always stay in control of the chair, but the wheelchair races here let you break out of the shackles and try and go as fast as you can. Some of the powered chairs can go pretty fast, so I’m looking forward to seeing that race later today.