Five years ago, Athletics Wellington introduced a track and field programme for children with disabilities. It was based on the Wellington Harrier Athletic Club, because the Club had the resources and, perhaps more importantly, had regular children’s activities at Newtown Park every Saturday morning.
The then Development Officer (Geoff Henry) established the programme with close support and guidance from Sport Wellington Region’s Sport Opportunities Adviser, Marguerite Christophers (Wellington Scottish).
The key factors in setting up the programme were:
- The athletes are usually well aware of what they can and cannot do: the challenge is to try to gradually extend their flexibility, dexterity and skills. Each child is encouraged to set his or her own level and perceive improvements when they are achieved.
- There should be consistency in deliverers: the children need to recognise and trust the deliverers. (It doesn’t have to be the same person every week, but some of the delivery team should always be familiar.)
- There should be consistency in delivery. The children need to recognise that athletics is their regular Saturday morning activity. So cancellations and weather postponements are avoided. (This was possible in the old Newtown Stadium, and is more possible in the new one!)
- Activity changes are few and gentle so that the athletes are comfortable with the routines and the extensions of them are so gradual as to be almost imperceptible.
- Equipment used should be safe and “user friendly”. The UK “Sportshall” indoor athletics equipment excelled in meeting this criterion!
The programme is largely based on the options offered in Athletics New Zealand’s “Run, Jump, Throw” programme. Throws are done with modified implements (quoit, vortex, soft-shot). The mats and foam rubber hurdles from the “Indoor Athletics” programme are used, and (weather and conditions permitting) a series of agility and co-ordination drills are done over cone and rod mini-hurdles on the grass. Long jumps are done from the side of the pit, and from the metre board. (High jumps are not considered appropriate for the present athletes.)
A throwing frame has been designed and built to as flexible parameters as possible, so that most athletes can use it. (It is perhaps a measure of its success that all users have “grown out” of it!) It belongs to the Centre so is also available for use at any club to which the programme is extended.
About half the participants have intellectual disabilities (autism, etc) and the rest have a variety of genetic conditions. There has been no recent recruitment, and numbers have dwindled somewhat. New recruitment opportunities are being developed and Athletics New Zealand, SPARC and the Halberg Trust are encouraging moves to extend the programme elsewhere in the Wellington Centre.
The experience of the programme is that there has never been a shortage of volunteers. Each child is required to bring a parent or care-giver, so that the organisers are protected from behavioural difficulties and the challenge of physically handling the athletes (e.g. lifting into the throwing frame!)
Of particular note is the ongoing, unsolicited volunteering from Wellington Girl’s College.
Track and Field Athletics for AWD has become so well supported in the secondary schools, that College Sport Wellington has had to “segregate” and put on separate championships for athletes with disabilities. While the same goodwill exists with Primary Sport Wellington, the levels of participation at primary schools are disappointing. (It is noteworthy that AWD are not yet included in the Colgate Games.)
Photos by Gary Nesbit www.nesport.co.nz
The group warms up at Newtown Park.
Agility and co-ordination drills are done over cone and rod mini-hurdles.
The programme is largely based on the options offered in Athletics New Zealand’s “Run, Jump, Throw” programme.
Throws are done with modified implements.
Long jumps are done from the side of the pit, and from the metre board.