Trailblazer Robert Watson blogs about how using a ventilator full-time hasn’t stopped him competing in powerchair football
I’ve always enjoyed taking part in team sports for as long as I’ve been in a powerchair (when I was still walking I never had the stamina to join in). In high school I would always join in playing football and hockey with a mixture of able-bodied kids and other wheelchair users, then once I left school I played wheelchair hockey for a number of years which was arranged by CHAS (Children’s Hospice Association Scotland).
But about five years ago those wheelchair hockey sessions stopped, and there seemed to be nowhere else that offered any similar sessions, every sports facility I looked into only seemed to cater for ambulant disabled people or manual wheelchair users with upper body strength.
But then about four years ago after doing much research and sending off lots of emails to a number of different disability sports organisations around the country, I discovered Clyde Powerchair Football Club. I was delighted to finally find somewhere else that I could go to play a sport, where I could compete on a level playing field with other powerchair users.
Over the four years I have been involved in playing the sport, both Clyde PFC, and the powerchair football scene in general in Scotland, have grown massively. When I started going there were only about 13 or 14 registered players who all met up for training once a week at the one venue, whereas last season we had 32 registered players who met up for training once a week spread over two venues, one in Glasgow and the other in Cumbernauld, because there are simply far too many players now to train everyone in the one hall!
As well as the training we now have competitive games since two years ago saw the launch of the Scottish Powerchair Football League, and when I started there was only one other powerchair football team in Scotland but now new teams are springing up all around the country – Aberdeen, Falkirk and Ayr to name just a few.
This season the side of Clyde PFC that trains in Glasgow (where I train) has been taken over by Queens Park, so our team name and strip has changed and we have some new coaches, but everything else remains the same. It’s just further evidence of the growing interest that mainstream Scottish football clubs are taking in the powerchair football scene, which is great to see.
So I really enjoy playing powerchair football for a number of reasons. There are not many active activities that someone with such severe muscle weakness as I have can take part in, so it’s great from that point of view. But there is also the social aspect, I have made many new friends through powerchair football because we all see each other once a week at the training sessions and we are in specific teams for the competitive matches, so you get to know your team mates well too. It also helps get me out the house more often and keeps me busy, so the sport of powerchair football has brought me nothing but positives and I’m so glad I discovered it.
For the last year or two I have been using my non-invasive ventilation (NIV) pretty much 24/7, the only times I came off it were for showers and to play powerchair football. But I was finding it harder and harder to stay off my NIV for the time required to play, and I knew I was getting close to the point where I would need to play with my ventilator on.
But any time I play with my ventilator on, the mask I use blocks my vision when looking downwards, meaning I was unable see to see the ball (slight problem!). And the other problem was because my ventilator is on the back of my chair and it can be quite a rough sport sometimes, there was a real danger of my ventilator getting damaged either by collisions with other powerchairs or with the ball hitting it.
So before I started playing competitive games with my vent on, I spoke to the coaches and within a few months they were able to build a metal ‘ventilator guard’ to put my vent into while I was playing, which was great! (see picture on the left)
However I still had the issue of not being able to see the ball properly which was very frustrating as it was really affecting my ability to contribute to the team, so I spoke to my ventilation team at the hospital and asked them if I could try out a few different masks to see if I could find anything better. Luckily the search didn’t last long because the first mask I tried was perfect and now I’m back to being able to play to my best and I don’t need to worry about struggling for breath any more.
I’m absolutely delighted because I really thought that once I needed my ventilator full time I would have to give up powerchair football. It’s great that this sport is so accessible that even someone on full time ventilation can fully take part.
It just goes to show that sometimes all you need to have is a bit of creative thinking in order to overcome a seemingly insurmountable problem. So if you are ventilator dependent like I am and you are worried it may signal the end of your powerchair football career, don’t worry – you might actually discover it’s just the beginning!
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