All-inclusive sports and activities on the Gold Coast
Craig Tansley | April 11, 2022
While plenty is known about the sporting achievements of able-bodied Gold Coast athletes, far less is known about the sporting prowess of our athletes living with disability.
But there’s a wide range of all-inclusive sports and activities available for Gold Coasters living with disability, run by a caring community of volunteers and individuals who dared to make a difference. Here’s the clubs and organisations who make sport and recreation available to everyone on the Gold Coast…
Rollerblaze is all-inclusive program operating wheelchair basketball for the Gold Coast community (though able-bodied people are also welcome). It’s open to everyone – first timers can come along on Saturday mornings to the Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre in Carrara between 9.30am and 11.30am, while A-grade games are held at the same venue at 6.30pm on Mondays.
Volunteers Sean Turner and Sandy Judge have been a big part of the success of the association. “Sandy and I always played basketball,” Sean says. “We’d been coaching basketball on the Sunshine Coast and we moved to the Gold Coast and went to a Rollerblaze game three years ago when the club only had 10 members. Sandy and I thought we could help, our kids had left home, we had time, so we put a committee together to attract more members and now we have 58 members.”
“When you meet people with disabilities it’s very easy to form deep connections,” Sean says.
“And we both love basketball and we knew it would really benefit people with disabilities to be able to play it.”
Members range in age from seven to 68, with a wide range of disabilities, from congenital disabilities to victims of accidents and trauma, including an Army veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan. The program also organises fundraisers to raise money for a fleet of sports-specific wheelchairs which cost between $6000 and $15,000 each. While the program is there to create a social environment, it’s also served as a pathway for athletes to go beyond the weekly competition. “We now have a couple of athletes who will be representing Australia at the next Paralympics,” Sean says. “Though I’m just as proud that everyone who competes feels connected with each other.”
The Gold Coast Performance Centre is one of the best equipped sports complexes of its kind anywhere in Australia when it comes to ensuring facilities and services are accessible for developing high performance athletes with disabilities. The Runaway Bay facility has been designed with all-abilities athletes firmly in mind and has a long history of working with state and national sports organisations and clubs.
It’s one of the state’s best sports performance centres and its state-of-the-art facilities cater for all athletes. There’s eight wheelchair accessed rooms, accessible bathrooms all over the facility, a pool hoist for swimmers, wheelchair access parking and it has the ability to host large sporting events.
Elite athletes with disability on the Gold Coast have access to a team who can build an exercise program and customise assistive technology so that any athlete can participate in a variety of activities. They also have three-star accommodation and dining facilities that cater for athletes – who can come and compete in elite sports meets.
For 43 years a group of individuals on the Gold Coast have been volunteering their time to provide recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. Prior to Covid-19, the Gold Coast Recreation and Sport Inc had 180 sport and active lifestyle programs running across the Gold Coast every week of the year.
With life beginning to regain some sense of normality after two years of the global pandemic, these programs are now being reintroduced. They include stand-up paddle-boarding, sailing, basketball, golf, tennis, fishing and bushwalking and include larger events like fundraisers, carnivals and discos.
The association is a hands-on service that’s staffed by volunteers and paid employees – part of a non-Government service that relies on a major network of volunteers helping out – and the help of Gold Coast sporting clubs. Volunteers help out with the various activities run all over the Gold Coast – improving the lives of people with disabilities and giving them something to look forward to by providing them with a wide range of all-inclusive sports and activities. The Gold Coast is an active person’s paradise – and this is the best way people of all abilities have to also make use of this great space.
Before Albatross Nippers, it was very difficult for kids with special needs to access nipper programs in Queensland. But Gold Coast physiotherapist Nick Marshall and the Nobby’s Beach Surf Lifesaving Club changed all that by establishing a nipper program for kids with special needs so they too could learn beach awareness and join in all the fun within the surf lifesaving community on the Gold Coast.
Being a nipper (junior life saver) on Sunday mornings is a rite of passage for Gold Coast kids – and Nick Marshall didn’t want kids with special needs to miss out. The Albatross Nippers program allows kids and their families to take part. In 2015, Marshall in conjunction with the Nobby Beach Surf Lifesaving Club set about creating an all-inclusive environment within the surf club for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. In 2020, he was recognised for his work with a gong in the Queensland Local Hero award category of the Australian Of The Year awards. Marshall and the surf lifesaving club prepared the first team of nippers with special needs to participate in a major surf lifesaving event, the Queensland State Lifesaving Championships in 2019, the 50th anniversary of nippers in Queensland.
The Special Olympics were first pioneered by the sister of the late US president, John F Kennedy, in the 1970s. These Olympics aren’t for athletes living with disability – as the Paralympics are – they’re for athletes with intellectual disabilities who often fell between the cracks when it came to their participation in sport.
The Gold Coast Club of the Special Olympics is part of the global network providing a huge range of recreational, social and health opportunities for people with an intellectual disability. It’s not just about the contest of sport, it’s there so everyone can use sport and recreation to build self-esteem, be healthy and make friends.
The Gold Coast chapter relies on volunteers to coach and be officials and organise events. Covid-19 has hampered the efforts of the Gold Coast club, but they’re battling on. “Special Olympics here on the Gold Coast has provided a pathway of opportunity for athletes with intellectual disabilities,” Special Olympics Gold Coast chairman Cheryl Haack says. “But Covid has affected our funding, and people with intellectual disabilities feel more than we do, they sense and understand the stress of Covid more than we comprehend.”
The Special Olympics Gold Coast club have had 39 athletes selected for the Queensland Special Olympics squad to compete at the National Championships in October in Tasmania against a total of 1000 athletes. “It costs $2800 per athlete to send them there, and that’s tough with Covid,” Haack says. “We’re hoping to fund raise enough money to send them there but we always need the public’s help. From the National titles, an Australian team is selected to play the World Special Olympics in Germany in 2023, which costs $7000 an athlete.”
It’s hard to work out what’s the most impressive aspect about the Gold Coast Inclusive Sports Program. Is it that it’s a very specific program conceived on the Gold Coast to teach fundamental sporting skills to kids with a range of disabilities? Or perhaps it’s that the idea was actually conceived by a Gold Coast school student – and that most of the volunteers are school students?
It shows how much the Gold Coast cares about people with disabilities when a 14 year-old Gold Coast local was the person who came up the inclusive sports program. Alex Wells was only 14 when she decided she wanted to start a program to ensure all kids in her local area had the same sporting privileges she did.
With the help of her school, Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School, she started the first season of the program in 2016 with 30 kids between five and 17. Within three years it had built to 90 athletes – with over 100 volunteers, 95 percent of whom were school-aged kids from Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School who gave up their Saturday afternoons every fortnight to help out.
The aim of the program is to teach basic skills for sports to kids – so they don’t miss out on the fun of sport, and the opportunity it gives kids to meet other kids. It has a new home now at Alberton, a little further north, with one hour sports sessions on Saturday afternoons at 2pm.
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