ON BEHALF OF PTA-UK, SHAUN MCGUCKIAN MEETS FIVE TIME PARALYMPIAN IAN ROSE PHOTO: DAMIAN HALLIWELL, OXFORD MAIL
To some children the thought of lunging at a hard floor and allowing their body to fold over into a perfect forward roll simply doesn’t compute. In fact, picturing that sequence now, even I question its sense. But five time paralympian Ian Rose has a unique way of coaxing even the most accident-prone child into a cushion soft roll. He blindfolds them.
It sounds perverse; if I began with a deep suspicion of forward rolls, then not being able to see the floor is surely going to make that worse. But no says Ian “Put a blindfold on them and they find it easy!”
This isn’t just candid camera fodder. The exercise begins with an hour-long session of blindfolded Judo demonstrating that you don’t necessarily have to see your way to success. A subject Ian knows intimately.
A Judo black belt and former European and World Champion, Ian is blind in his left-eye and short-sighted in his right, the result of retinoblastoma or eye cancer, when he was just six-months old.
This proved no deterrent to the five-time Paralympian, currently lamenting recent injuries that have prevented him from competing at London 2012 and have called time on his career. “But with the closing of that door, a new one has opened,” Ian says, as he takes his life experiences into schools to get children to believe that everything is possible. “I would love children to have the same experiences I’ve had in life. Not everyone is going to be an Olympian, but everyone can find something they’re good at and achieve. The trick is finding it. If I can play a small part in helping one or two people do this, then it’s all worth it.”
Ian and his business partner Jonathan Purssey have devised an experience aimed at showing children the value and importance of confidence, empathy and self-esteem. The children do this by bringing to life a Paralympic Judo experience for themselves.
“I start with a presentation on the attributes needed to win a medal through my experiences. Then we take three groups to do Judo, blindfolded. It’s not about the Judo, it’s about the kids working together to achieve success - teaching them that they can do things they didn’t think possible.
“Without eyesight everyone’s confidence dips. But then their other senses heighten to compensate and they rely on their friends to help them succeed, instead of worrying what they look like. We try to pair up people who don’t know each other and ask the person helping them, who can see, to be their eyes. This drills home the importance of good, clear communication.
“It’s amazing the difference in mentality, just by doing this exercise. Kids come onto to the mat as individuals, but take away their sight they must work together and that group mentality is what you see at the end.”
At the side of the mat, art and media pupils illustrate what’s going on, which can contribute towards GCSE projects, while another group spend time in the classroom posing questions and thinking about what it is like to live with a disability and what the Paralympics are all about. There’s an area to have some time out; to dream and then plan a way to achieve those plans.”
One of the keystones of London 2012 is the legacy the Games will leave behind. But while watching Usain Bolt scream down the 100m track might add a few numbers to the local athletics club, little is being done in the education of what is needed to get to that level and how you can go about it. This is something Ian is dedicated to putting across.
“My first Paralympic Games was Barcelona in 1992. I went there thinking what many do, that the Paralympics are a wonderful chance for disabled people to enjoy sport. It was completely the wrong thing to think because I came last. The Paralympics is a competition of elite athletes who just happen to have a disability. It was a harsh lesson to learn. Upon realising this I was able to move onto the next stage of my career, change my mentality towards training and compete as an elite athlete. In 1995, I won the world championships.”