An Irish Woman's Paralympic Odyssey

An Irish Woman's Paralympic Odyssey

My name is Roberta Connolly and Iím heading off to Athens to represent Ireland in the Paralympics. I canít wait. This is what dreams are made of - the anticipation as your event draws near. The sound of our national anthem bellowing in your ear! The opening ceremony in Sydney was dazzling and this one promises to be equally spectacular.

The build-up to Athens has been somewhat unnerving. Media reports that Greece wouldnít be ready continued to fester. The qualifier in New Zealand was our last chance to ensure our world ranking was secured. Only the top 11 countries would make it to the Paralympics. The Irish team got to the quarter finals, maintaining our 6th best place in the world.

The build-up to Athens has been far more intense from an athletic point of view. We have physiologists, sports psychologists and nutritional experts advising us along the way. It has officially been noted that we are the best prepared Irish Paralympic team ever.

As well as physical fitness, itís paramount to maintain your psychological advantage. If you go into a match mentally strong the battle is half won. Now a bit more about me. Iím feeling very confident about Athens on an individual basis. Iím now ranked 16th in the world and hope to boost my rankings over the next couple of weeks.

Boccia is a competitive sport similar to lawn bowls. Itís played from a wheelchair. The sport requires concentration, co-ordination, muscular control, accuracy, teamwork and strategy.

Iíve been playing Boccia for seven years, with training in Loughlinstown leisure centre in Dublin once a fortnight.

The game involves individuals playing six red balls against six blue and one white target jack ball to aim for. There are three in a team, each person gets two balls. The aim of the game is to get as many of your balls surrounding or touching the jack as possible and to remove any of your opponentsí obstructing balls. In the process of doing so, each ball nearer than your opponents counts as a point. There are four ends in a singles match and six in the team game.

Before my accident (I was struck by a car at age 10) I loved sport, couldnít get enough of it, you name it, I was doing it. Cross country running, gymnastics etcÖ so obviously the frustration set in when I realised my limbs could no longer perform their duty in such a majestic manner. I began to look elsewhere and came across Cerebral Palsy Sport Ireland. And then my life changed forever.

I have overcome a lot of hurdles in my life for sport, not least in 2002, a week before the team were due to leave for the Boccia World Championships in Portugal. I was in a meeting in Enable Ireland Adult Services, Sandymount when my brand new wheelchair went on fire (the battery fuse was incorrectly fitted) with me sitting in it at the time! Thankfully, I was pulled out and rushed to safety.

I was crestfallen but pulled myself together and armed with a replacement chair, went off to Portugal and did myself justice. Now donít get me wrong, I get nervous before a match but once you get out there the only thing on your mind is winning and winning well. Boccia took off in Sydney, the Aussies were hugely entertained by the range of talent. I am equally confident it wil be a big hit in Athens.

Sport, whatever your chosen field and whatever your level of ability or disability, is a talent that has to be worked on and improved.

* will be following Robertaís progress in Athens and she plans to write an update to this article on her return from the Paralympics. The Boccia competition will be held in the Ano Liossia Olympic Hall in Athens between September 23-28.

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