How sport is truly changing the lives of Havering’s disabled youth
PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 July 2016
In just two months, sport’s most inspirational men and women will return to the world stage, showcasing their determination to succeed at the elite level by competing at the Rio Paralympic Games.
And among those cheering them on from home will be thousands of young people who themselves are proving that their disabilities are no barrier to success.
The Recorder has spoken to two fledgling sportsmen who are testament to that statement
Bradley Donovan is on a mission – to encourage as many people with physical and learning disabilities as possible to throw themselves into the opportunities sport can offer.
The 19-year-old aspiring coach’s own experiences with cerebral palsy have spurred him on to sporting success – founding a disability cricket club and captaining another team to a national final – and now he hopes to encourage others to pursue their passions.
“Just because they have got a disability, it doesn’t mean they are different,” he said.
Bradley was inspired by the 2005 Ashes series, which England won 2-1, but although cricket became a firm favourite, he also got stuck into wheelchair racing, basketball, rugby, football, boccia and athletics. He described all the sports as “exciting in their different ways”.
But one of his biggest challenges, and achievements, came when the opportunity arose to take over the Cricket for Change club in Gidea Park, upon the announcement of its closure.
“Unfortunately they couldn’t keep it up,” said Bradley, “So me and my dad [Keith] took it over to Harold Wood Cricket Club.
“It’s really good to be part of a club that wants them [young disabled people] to do well and wants them to play cricket.”
The club’s membership varies, but generally between 18 and 25 people attend sessions, said Bradley, of Hornchurch. Among the group’s number are people with physical disabilities and others with learning difficulties.
“It’s rewarding and good to see young kids with disabilities enjoying themselves and knowing they are part of something and they are the same as everyone else,” the teenager added.
Bradley, who has a sister, Bethanie, enjoyed a “life-changing” Cricket for Change Jamaica tour as a youngster and, last year, captained Essex’s “Incrediball” cricket disability team to a national final.
His apprenticeship in sports coaching, with Cricket for Change and Essex County Cricket Club, is due to finish in October and he hopes to continue working with young people with disabilities and special needs.
“There was a boom after the 2012 London Paralympics,” he said, “But it’s fading out slowly and I’m just looking to keep it up and get more disability sport into Havering.”
It’s clear to see that 17-year-old Ronnie Jackson lives and breathes sport. From touring Australia and Holland with a national cricket team, to a history of throwing himself into every activity going at school, the teenager has made no bones of his passion.
And as his parents gaze upon his long list of achievements, their pride is all the more precious, given the challenges their son has faced due to his autism.
“In the early days, we were worried about whether Ronnie could function on his own,” said his dad Steve, “But now we feel like he can do anything he wants.”
As a toddler, Ronnie, of Rainham, stopped saying words he had learnt and avoided all eye contact, with mum Claire telling how he “lost interest in the world around him”.
Trips to health professionals proved fruitless in the beginning, but Ronnie was eventually diagnosed at Great Ormond Street Hospital and referred to Hornchurch children’s charity First Step, which cares for children with special needs and disabilities.
“Life became easier”, with Ronnie learning makaton, a system of using signs and symbols to communicate, and by the age of five he was able to talk with some fluency.
While at school, the sports mad teenager, who has a sister Penelope, 14, signed up for football, basketball and cricket teams, also joining Rainham Cricket Club and Cricket for Change sessions run by charity The Change Foundation.
He has since toured Jamaica, Holland and Australia – the latter two with the England MLD (moderate learning difficulties) cricket team – and captained his school, Abbs Cross Academy, to a Havering Cup victory.
Telling of his England selection, he said: “I was at an Essex [MLD] session and this coach scouted me, I was very excited.
“Holland was amazing, a really good challenge, and it was a very high standard of cricket, playing against a professional team.”
“Quite competitive” Ronnie is awaiting his GCSE results –hoping to get the grades to study a BTEC qualification in sport – and aspires to become a PE teacher or cricket coach, though he hasn’t ruled out the Paralympics.
“They don’t do cricket, but if I was doing any other sport, like football, I would consider it,” he said.
“It’s good to see everyone having a go at playing sport and doing it at that level. It’s inspirational.”
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