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Worcester Student Hoping to Star as Spotlight Shines on Disability Sport Again

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The 20th Commonwealth Games get underway in Glasgow next week, with household sporting names set to compete across 17 different sports.

Much of the attention will fall on Hampden Park, where the likes of Olympic champions Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Sally Pearson will represent their respective nations in the track and field events.

They will be sharing the limelight, though, with a small clutch of disabled athletes – including University of Worcester student Fiona Clarke, who will represent England in the women’s long jump – as para-sport ‘showcase’ events appear in the main Commonwealth programme for the fifth time.

Two years after the highly successful London Paralympics, disabled athletes will again have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in front of sizeable, passionate crowds. But, with London 2012 now consigned to the sporting historic books, how has the world of disability sport moved on in this country?

The answer, says Fiona, is far from clear cut.

“Personally, I think there has been a lot more interest in Paralympic sport since London 2012, especially within athletics,” says the long jumper, who has cerebral palsy and is classified as a T37 athlete.

“However, this doesn’t mean that the provisions have been improved. For example, there are frequent beginner sessions held throughout the country, which give aspiring athletes a taste of what certain sports are like, but when these athletes go to join their local Athletics Clubs, they are forced to go on to a waiting list because there aren’t enough coaches with education and skills around disability sport.”

In 2012, the University of Worcester launched the country’s first degree dedicated to producing experts in disability sport – Sports Coaching Science with Disability Sport.

Currently, over 150 students study on that degree or in disability sport related modules, and as the Head of the University’s Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, Mick Donovan, explains, they will play a key role in ensuring that disability sport in this country continues to progress.

“The University already had an excellent reputation for supporting disabled people competing at all levels of sport, and we knew that a significant number of adults and children with a disability would be inspired by the London 2012 Paralympics.

“Increased interest and participation creates the need for more coaches, volunteers and teachers to make sure that everyone wanting to take part in sport can fulfil their potential.”

He continues: “Many of our staff have coached or competed at a high level, and they all share a passion for inclusion in sport. Our facilities include the University of Worcester Arena, which is the country’s first sporting venue specifically designed to meet the needs of wheelchair athletes and is the training base for the Great Britain men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball squads.

“Our graduates will go into careers in which they can help and coach disabled people who wish to engage in sport and physical activity; truly continuing the legacy of the London Paralympics.”

Fiona, who will line up alongside the likes of Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Richard Kilty in Team England colours in Glasgow, is confident that initiatives like that in place at the University of Worcester will continue to improve the landscape for disabled athletes.

“London 2012 shone a light on Paralympic sport, and in the future I’m sure that we will see continued improvements; new athletes will be pushed through and provisions in all areas of sport will continue to improve.”