Support through Sport UK spoke to Chris Wren, Secretary of the Rusmoor Mallards Club.
Hi Chris. First off, what are the objectives of the Rushmoor Mallards Club?
The club provides a safe environment for people with any impairment, disability or learning difficulty to have fun through sport.
How long has the club been going for and how did it begin?
The club started in 1974 as a swimming club for physically disabled people and their families and was based at the newly-opened Farnborough Leisure Centre. At the time, there were precious few opportunities for disabled people to participate in sport - most ‘mainstream’ clubs weren’t able to adapt their teaching methods to swimmers with missing limbs or other mobility problems. The leisure centre management were kind enough to set aside some time for the Rushmoor Mallards to use the pool for private swimming sessions where people could just swim for fun or receive coaching. In 1976, the leisure centre extended its facilities and the Mallards did likewise, introducing a ‘dry sports’ session on a Friday night. Both of these sessions continue today.
What sports does the club offer?
Swimming is still the club’s main focus and the weekly sessions are reasonably well attended. Perhaps the Paralympics will change things a little but many of our members enjoy the privacy of these sessions, particularly those who use a hoist to enter or leave the pool. The leisure centre provides the lifeguards but we have other volunteers who’ll swim with our members to give them the confidence and support that they need. Friday night is still our ‘dry sports’ night, although this is as much a social event as anything else. A wide selection of sports and activities are available at these sessions and members are just encouraged to join in with whatever they like - badminton, table tennis, darts, table football, bowls etc. In addition, each week we have a (volunteer) guest coach who runs a training session on a particular sport (trampolining on the first and third Friday, football on the second, cricket on the fourth - as well as Boccia most weeks. The Mallards has also 'spun off' its own wheelchair basketball team, now training twice a week with the support of the Woking Blackhawks.
Has the Rushmoor Mallards produced any Paralympians?
It certainly has, in fact the club has developed National, European, World and Paralympic Champions - and several of our members have been honoured by the Queen. I’ll give you two great examples. Peter Hull MBE, is an inspirational sportsman born without legs and with arms ending at the elbow who won three gold medals in the pool at the Barcelona games in 1992 - each with a world record time. He is now our Club President and continues to work tirelessly to further the cause of disability sport. Di Coates MBE has been shooting air rifles competitively at an International level since 1984. She won Gold in Seoul in 1988, Barcelona in 1992 and a Gold and Silver medal in Atlanta in 1996 and has competed in all the other Paralympics since, including London 2012.
Is there a good social side to your club?
As mentioned earlier, our Friday night sessions are as much of a social night as a sports night. In fact, we do have a few members who come along simply to watch their friends playing sport which is absolutely fine by us. We also have fun events throughout the year including a Christmas disco and picnics over the summer - and we also send ‘teams’ to participate in sports days organised by other disability sports clubs around the country. Again, these events are as much an opportunity to catch up with old friends as they are about winning the competitions.
Can anyone join the club - of any age and with any impairment?
Absolutely. Our youngest member is eight and our oldest in his 80s. Some come with their families, others use the time to give their families a break from caring. We try to ensure that our activities cater for all levels of ability and our volunteer coaches do a great job of adapting their training programme to fit each individual’s needs.
Why would you encourage disabled people to take up sport?
Apart from the obvious health benefits of any sort of exercise, the social aspects of participating in sport can be hugely beneficial. Whilst many of our members lead fulfilling careers, many are unable to do so and have much more limited options for positive interaction with their peers. I like to think of sport as being the catalyst that ensures everyone feels that they really achieve something - whether they want to be the next Ellie Simmonds or they want to prove they can be independent from their normal carers for a couple of hours.
Many thanks for talking to Support through Sport UK about your inspiring club, Chris.
Club: Rushmoor Mallards
Contact: Chris Wren;
Brief Description: A broad range of sporting activities are arranged for the benefit of members. Friday evening ‘dry sports’ sessions include (but are not limited to) football, trampolining, bowls, table tennis, badminton and new age curling. Sunday lunchtime swimming sessions with coaching are available on an ad-hoc basis. Both the ‘dry sports’ and swimming sessions take place at the Farnborough Leisure Centre. The club has a range of specialist equipment to enable members to participate in sport. Each year, an inter-club dry-sports Games and a Swimming Gala are arranged. Mallards members are also encouraged to participate in other local games, galas and bowling competitions. The Rushmoor Mallards also has an affiliated wheelchair basketball team. Wherever possible, links will be encouraged with other organisations to help and guide any individuals looking to achieve a higher level in sport in order to help them to reach their full potential. The Rushmoor Mallards provide a range of sporting and recreational activities for people with any impairment of any age from toddlers to pensioners, together with their families and friends.