Glasgow 2014 Queen Baton Relay

To be honoured by receiving a formal invitation from Buckingham Palace to be a batonbearer at the Official launch of the Queen’s Baton Relay on Wednesday 9th October was surreal. This honour is in recognition for my commitment to promoting awareness of ParaSports and actively contributing to the legacy of the Games.

I was absolutely overwhelmed about the prospect of being one of ten batonbearers at the Official launch of the Queen’s Baton Relay. The news came through when I was away in the wilderness!

The ParaSports quest has been truly captivating as it seeks the public engagement and interest in the five ParaSports which will be encompassed alongside the mainstream sports in the Glasgow 2014 Games. I hope by highlighting the ParaSports’s vision through the Queen Baton Relay, it will be endorsed even more.

The ParaSports interests is galvanising momentum and I am confident that Glasgow 2014 can deliver the biggest ParaSports success in the Commonwealth Games history. It will stand the ParaSports movement in good stead for going forward into the future to stage many more Commonwealth Games and allows many disabled athletes to complete competitively.

The Queen’s Baton Relay reaches a momentous stage in the ParaCommonwealth chapter.

(By participating in this fantastic event, it will promote awareness of the Glasgow 2014 Para Commonwealth Game and also raise the profile of the Evening Times.)
Julie part of the Queen Baton Relay

The Disabilities Wilderness Initiative’s participants achieved the John Muir Award

The Disabilities Wilderness Initiative was launched two years ago in conjunction with the National Trust for Scotland which aims to encourage more people with disabilities to access woodlands and green space and develop a meaningful connection to the beautiful natural landscapes Scotland has to offer.

This project is the brainchild of Julie McElroy who has Cerebral Palsy, which has resulted in walking difficulties, speech and hearing impairment along with manual dexterity problems. Julie was inspired to initiate this project to encourage more people with disabilities to access woodlands and green space as part of her John Muir Conserver Award two years ago.

The Disabilities Wilderness Initiative this year partnered up with the John Muir Trust to give participants the opportunity to complete the introductory level of the John Muir Award.

Fourteen participants from Mar Lodge and Ben Lomond projects achieved their Discovery Award.

Julie said: ” This year has seen an overwhelming interest as we challenged the participants to work towards their John Muir Award. This year has been a great success and laid the foundation for the Disabilities Wilderness Initiative to grow and progress.

One of the participants from the Disabilities Wilderness Initiative, Janette Thursby Scott who is visually impaired said “The Wilderness Experience this year was superb. We met old friends and made new ones. I was bowled over by the enthusiasm and the encouragement from the Rangers and guides. I loved learning about foraging and tasting things along the footpaths in the forest. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist to conserve the landscape for the future.”

Emily Sanderson, Community Outreach Coordinator for The National Trust for Scotland who worked with Julie to deliver two projects says “I thought the Disabilities Wilderness Initiative was a great success. We were able to offer a diverse programme of activities for each week, which challenged the participants to increase their engagement with the outdoors and with each other. Activities such as climbing the mountain behind Mar Lodge; foraging for food; carrying out necessary conservation work on Trust properties; learning about National Parks and John Muir’s legacy all goes a long way to increasing peoples’ awareness of nature and inspiring them to take action to protect it. Working and living together for a week brought people from diverse backgrounds with a range of capabilities closer together and encouraged a wonderful sense of Team work and peer support.This all goes to prove the value in residential work of this nature”.

BBC Weather Presenter, Judith Ralston, Heath Brown and Julie McElroy
BBC Weather Forecaster and Presenter Judith Ralston presented the participants from the Disabilities Wilderness Initiative with their certificate at the National Trust for Scotland’s property, David Livingston Centre, near Blantyre.

Judith said: “I was delighted to be asked to present the John Muir Awards. It is indeed a great honor. The participants excelled and achieved so much in spite of their difficulties they faced and face in everyday life. The best thing for me was to see what cammeraderie had developed between them all. It’s wonderful that the opportunity came about and hopefully they will do it again in the future”.

The John Muir Award is an environmental award scheme focused on wild places. It encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment, in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration. It is the educational initiative of the John Muir Trust.

Kim McIntosh, John Muir Award Scotland Inclusion Manager, also congratulated the participants on their achievements, says “The John Muir Award is open to people of all backgrounds. It is great to see such a diverse group of people come together to enjoy spending time outdoors and do something positive to look after the natural environment. Congratulations to all the participants on the Disabilities Wilderness initiative for achieving their Discovery Award.”


1. The National Trust for Scotland is one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, which relies on the financial support of its members to funds its important work of caring for the natural and cultural heritage of Scotland for everyone to enjoy. The Trust cares for a range of sites on Arran, including Brodick Castle and Country Park and Goatfell.

1. The John Muir Trust encourages people to experience wild places and to ‘put something
back’ through the John Muir Award. Since 1997 more than 190,000 awards has been achieved. For more information go to

National Trust For Scotland Delivered Two Disabled Wilderness Initiatives

The National Trust for Scotland and Julie McElroy delivered two wilderness projects for people with disabilities. This follows on from the resounding success of the inaugural event innovative new programme which was launched two years ago which aims to encourage more people with disabilities to access woodlands and green space and develop a meaningful connection to the beautiful natural landscapes Scotland has to offer.

The brainchild of this project was Julie who has Cerebral Palsy has resulted in walking difficulties, speech and hearing impairment along with manual dexterity problems. Julie was inspired to initiate this project to encourage more people with disabilities to access woodlands and green space as part of her aim to achieving her John Muir Award which had played an important part when Julie completed her top Conserver John Muir Award two years ago.

Initially the bespoke initiative were looking for participants to take part in a range of outdoor activities including a little taste of the kind of conservation work that is such an important aspect of the Trust’s work at Ardress Lodge, Ben Lomond, in the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

This year due to a resounding interests in the Disabilities Wilderness Initiative, the National Trust for Scotland were able to deliver two projects which coincidentally ran back to back in September this year.

First project ran at Mar Lodge. We took the students from the City of Glasgow College, whom had learning disabilities to the National Trust for Scotland’s estate of Mar Lodge and they stayed at Basecamp lodge. Mar Lodge Estate occupies nearly 7% of the Cairngorms National Park, covering in total 29,380 hectares of some of the most remote and scenic wild land in Scotland, including four of the five highest mountains in the UK.

The activities undertaken by the students include exploring wild mushrooms, making aromatic oil and lip balm, bat detectors session, conservation work of heather cutting. On the last night, we did a camp fire with the students too. We also took them to the Compass Christian Centre where we did indoor rock climbing and thereafter outdoor rope course. This was a fantastic success for all the students involved as they conquered their confidence, fear of height and many other personal attributes.

The fourth and original proposed initiative for this year’s Disabilities Wilderness Initiative took place at the National Trust for Scotland’s property, Ardress Lodge, Ben Lomond, Torridan. The stunning ideal location is based east shore of Loch Lomond to a height of 974m (3,193ft), Ben Lomond.

We invited Monica Wilde who an herbalist who runs Napiers the Herbalists today to do a full day with us in both camps. Her inputs were hugely successful and well received by the participants. The participants discovered so many wild food and plants to make aromatic products.

This year, we also embedded the John Muir’s Discovery level to encourage participants to develop skills in conservation work and to learn about nature through environmental activities.

The third and forth initiatives coincide with 2013 being the ‘Year of Natural Scotland’ which is being supported by Scottish Natural Heritage and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. It is about celebrating Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty in 2013! From stunning landscapes and iconic wildlife, to creative events and nature festivals, Scotland’s great outdoors is waiting for you.

This year has been hugely successful as one of the facilitators summed it up in a nutshell, “Julie, you have enabled great experiences for lots of people through the National Trust for Scotland”.

The award presentation will now take on Friday 11th October at the National Trust for Scotland’s David Livingstone Centre to celebrate the participant’s achievements.

Disabilities Wilderness Initiative – Ben Lomond

The main aim from this project is to support 6 young adults with disabilities to gain access to the NTS properties and to encourage them to develop skills in conservation work and to learn about nature through environmental activities.

The whole project based at Ben Lomond in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, with participants staying at the NTS Ardess Lodge. We will discover the Millenium Forest Path in Balmaha and well as other woods, mountains, lochs and coasts which are rich in wildlife and cultural history.

The main theme this project will follow will be ‘Ben Lomond- past, present and future’. With this, we mean to explore the ‘history’ theme by looking into Ben Lomond’s archaeology; ancient human history and the geology of the site. For ‘present’, we aim to look at what flora and fauna lives in the property and what issues it faces in the 21st Century. We will then move on to imagine what the future is for Ben Lomond, assessing its conservation and future public engagement with visitors, including its position in the National Park.

Ben Lomond is situated from rising from the east shore of Loch Lomond to a height of 974m (3193ft), Ben Lomond offers exhilarating walking and spectacular views across Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Its scenic splendors apart, the mountain is an important botanical site as well as a working hill farm.

This time around we’ve raised the challenge, offering disabled participants the opportunity to camp out over night and complete the Discovery level of the John Muir Award. The John Muir Award had played an important part when Julie completed her top Conserver John Muir Award two years ago.

The Disabilities Wilderness Initiative will also coincide with 2013 being the ‘Year of Natural Scotland’ which is being supported by Scottish Natural Heritage and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. It is about celebrating Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty in 2013! From stunning landscapes and iconic wildlife, to creative events and nature festivals, Scotland’s great outdoors is waiting for you.

Disabilities Wilderness Initiative – Mar Lodge

The Disabilities Wilderness Initiative has come a long way since I set out inspiring more disabled people to access the Great Scottish Outdoors way back in 2011. Since then, in partnership with the Natural Trust for Scotland, went onto deliver two more Disabilities Wilderness Initiatives which bring it to a staggering four projects run to date.

This year, we collaborated with the John Muir Trust to give participants to complete their award as Julie, herself completed her John Muir Conserver Award two years ago.

The main aim from this project is to support young adults with disabilities to gain access to the National Trust Scotland properties and to encourage them to develop skills in conservation work and learn about nature through environmental activities.

As a result of this project, the National Trust Scotland and Julie McElroy will produce a document with guidance to help inform other outdoor action providers how to support disability groups to access green space and develop a meaningful connection to the beautiful natural landscapes Scotland has to offer. We wish to encourage people with disabilities to push their outdoor boundaries.

This year’s Disabilities Wilderness Initiative has tailored a bespoke package for a Scottish college to take an opportunity to explore the wilderness. The residential week was based at Mar Lodge.

Mar Lodge Estate is part of the core area of the Cairnsgorms, internationally recognised as the most important nature conservation landscape in the British Isles. The estate contains four of the five highest mountains in the UK. It includes the upper watershed of the River Dee and remnant Caledonian pie forest of the national importance. Some, 7,080 hectares (17,500 acres) lie within the Cairnsgorms National Nature Reserve. Large parts of the estate are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the majority of it is within National Scenic Areas. The outstanding wildlife and birdlife on this estate are characteristic of the northern mountainous areas of Britian. Conservation work here includes promoting regeneration of the native Caledonian pine forest.

The group chosen to go were students studying at City of Glasgow College. They consists of adults ranging in age between 18 and 25 who live with a disability either from birth or acquired throughout their life. The Trust wants to support the group to push their boundaries in a safe environment. They are interested in learning more about practical countryside conservation and many are also motivated to complete their John Muir Award – Discovery Level.

ParaCommonwealth Stories

Celebrities Bowls

The Celebrities version of Lawn Bowls took place at Kelvingrove on Sunday 11th August 2013.

official_celebsPhotographer: Phil Rider

I must congratulate Jordanhil Bowling Club for pulling together such an incredible line up of celebrities for a ‘Celebrity’ version of Lawn Bowls at Kelvingrove today. We had Judy Murray, John Beattie, Des Clarke, Feargal Dalton, Colin McCredie, Kenny McLean, Bill Kidd MSP, Pauline O’Donnell, the sister of Jacqueline O’Donnell (The Sisters Restaurant), Sanjeev Kohil.

juniorsPhotographer: Phil Rider

Glasgow Life, Café Cira, Oran Moor, Sanjay Newsagent supported the event which was extraordinary. It was amazing to see to the community out in force supporting the event.

ParaCommonwealth Stories

Long Jump – ParaSport Challenge

Nothing could prepare me for my next challenge as I to embark on trying my hand at the Long Jump.  It was met with anticipation and fear. The anticipation, I was keen to see what I could realistically do and on the other hand was fear of struggling with my functions in my leg muscles.

Darren Ritchie was our coach for this assignment and, effectively, our athlete as well. Darren is now National Events Manager (Jumps and Combined Events) for Scottish Athletics.

His main sporting achievement as a long jumper was a fourth placed finish in the men’s long jump event at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002. Agonisingly, Darren jumped 7.88 for fourth when the bronze medallist, Kareem Streete-Thompson recorded 7.89, a mere centimetre more.

Born in Edinburgh on February 14 1975 (Valentine’s Day!), Darren is now retired as an athlete, but can reflect on being Scottish Long Jump Champion six times during his career. His personal best was 8.02m. He spent time away from Scotland in both England and Norway.

Also attendance was Shona Malcolm who is the Disability Athletics Development Officer for Scottish Athletics.

We were also joined by Nicola Tennant, who is a Senior Physiotherapist in Neurobiomechanic and Cerebral Palsy. The team have certainly learned alot on this assignment and there no way I could have explained the complications with hyper extension knee and other attributes that affects Cerebral Palsy.

As Darren tried to put me through my paces of warming and stretching my legs muscles, I was struggling to do everything on my left leg. (My Cerebral Palsy affects my left side of the body so the physical efforts is greater than my right side.)

Nicola was beginning to monitor my legs movements and it became apparent that I have spasticity in my left leg. Spasticity is a term that is often used interchangeably with hypertonia.  Spasticity, however, is a particular type of hypertonia in which the muscles’ spasms are increased by movement.

While I was finding this assignment frustrating, I clearly got into the focus orientated mode of aiming to co-ordinate my balance rather than become patronised by everyone looking on. It became obvious to Darren that he had no chance mastering the whole techniques of doing the Long Jump in one day as the complexity of my muscles is too great to deal with.

We just concentrated on me trying to jump from the edge of the sand pitch and even that was a challenge as I didn’t have the stability. Every time, I jumped into the sand, I lost my balance easily, bringing back recollection of me falling in sinking mud in the Amazon five years ago! I just busted out laughing so much that my whole face went into the sand and during the process, the sand entered my mouth! Yuck! At least, I do laugh at myself in funny situations which tells me that sports should be taken as enjoyment too.

It was truly my toughest Parasport by far and probably always will be. It was far more complicated than I thought it would.

Darren puts it to me, it was brainstorming through a puzzle to understand my functions along with the effects of Cerebral Palsy. I learned to master small techniques atleast.

It was a great day had by all and I know the team will be beaming about this assignment for a while to come!


ParaCommonwealth Stories

A Pair of Trainers

What a difference it makes when you share your concerns about doing one of the toughest challenge in my ParaCommonwealth journey to date.

I considered my next challenge of attempting the Long Jump to be the toughest by far because there is a lot to think about with your body functions: run, step-run-up on strongest leg and jump forward  heading towards the sand pit. In theory it may sounds easy but in physical term for someone with Cerebral Palsy it must be a hard sports to master in a short time.

I have a hyper extension knee with my left knee and it was that reason which prompted me to undertake the assignment on a serious note as much as the enjoyment of showcasing how hard it is to do the Long Jump with a disability which immediately trigger you at a disadvantage because of bio mechanical difficulties.

While I may have find reassurance from Darren Ritchie and Shona Malcolm, the slight weakness in my left thigh can slipped back unintentionally and to some extent, I have no control over so therefore seeking advices from health professionals was my only way forward of feeling content and secure about how to manage my left leg during the athletics assignment.

A visit to the Southern General’s WESTMARC (West of Scotland Mobility and Rehabilitation Centre) being seen by Nicola Tennant and Nikki Munro my Orthotic Consultant who deals with my AFO (Ankle Foot Orthosis), two of them came up with a cunning plan that may alleviate my issues.

The two Nicolas asked me to run down the corridor and I can run because my knee is in running motion and hyper extension knee is less however, my foot drop still remains there. Nicola Tennant suggested tapping my knee and insert wedges over a knee brace as the knee brace would have restricted my movement.

Meanwhile, Nikki Munro, suggested I purchase a pair of trainers. Anyway, purchase a pair of trainers and Nikki will put high heel wedges in my trainers to make my knees go into bent position and this may help me run better however, I was reluctant to try this because I rarely walk in high heel shoes due to my balance co-ordination. After much discussions, we thought we would try it because it may help with other sporting challenges. When you work in the profession of Orthotics and Physio, it very much trying and seeing what works best as everyone has individual needs.

Just to give me a feel to what it would like, Nikki attached block high heel wedges to my shoes and I really felt the effect of my knee bending!

I can finally say that I am a lot happier and growing in confidence about attempting this Long Jump  assignment. Even Nikki commented “that this ParaCommonwealth journey/challenge is up my street as I like basking the barriers and we need people like you (Julie) to work alongside the allied health professionals as individuals with these fuctions and bio mechanical issues know best and can work as part of a team to improve the overall situation.

To recap, Nicola along with my Orthotic consultant, they assessed my walking etc so I can run as it in running motion to some extent however to be sure that the knee is in line with the bio-mechanical alignment, we are going to use tapping similarly to kinesiology tape and wedges. 

It is now such a nice feeling knowing that you’ve address the root of the problem with professionals in a specialised field. I must also point out that I am incredibly fortunate to have partnership of Nicola and Nikki who will do whatever they can to ensure that I can participate in sports fluently. A first class service!

Here are my prototype trainers sliced opened and raise my height in the heel. Now I am beginning to walk in high heels!!

The reason why the Orthotics have done this is due to my hyperextension in my left knee, we felt with ‘high riser’ on the heels would help the biomechanical signal of knees and make my knees go into bending position rather than spin backwards and have insole underneath the shoes.

I cannot tell you how much the relentless challenge it has been for the Orthotics to customized an AFO because of my unique gait pattern. Over the last two years, I have been through fifteen AFO as the constant change in my muscles tone as I keep up my remarkable fitness, i.e. take my 10K for example.

The question always poised where ‘do you’ strike the balance of becoming fit in my case? Do fewer exercises and encounter muscular problems and deformity or do take an approach to stay physically active. Endless debates and that calls for more clinical research too!)

ParaCommonwealth Stories

Glasgow RaceRunning

Have anyone heard of RaceRunning, do many of you know what this sports is all about?

Julie caught up with Caroline Johnston, who works for Glasgow Life in the capacity of disability sports to find out more about this new sport which has got everyone talking about in the world of disability sports.

Caroline who recently won Evening Times’s Sports Volunteer of the Year earlier this year says “Race Running in Glasgow was piloted by ACE of Ayr in 2011 at the Glasgow Sports Multisports session at Scotstoun on a Friday night. From there, bikes were bored from ACE and youngsters trained regularly at the Red Star athletics sessions on a Monday and Thursday at Crown Point. Also, Neil’s Wheels – a local childrens’ charity, received an awards for all grant to buy three bikes and start a club at a separate time. This club started October 2012 and meets regularly on a Saturday morning at Scotstoun stadium”

RaceRunning was established back in 1991 which signalled a change for people born with Cerebral Palsy. In the early, RaceRunning (RR), Cerebral Palsy athletes could now start running forward instead of backwards. It wasn’t long until records were broken and CPISRA which became aware of this new sport and nearly more than twenty years later, the first international RaceRunners camp was held in Denmark, and since then thirteen countries currently endorse and participants taking part in RaceRunning has risen steadily.

Today, RaceRunning is now an international disability sport in which children and adults compete with running bikes on an athletics track. Events range from 40m to 3000m. Competitors are classified based on their disability and race against other competitors in their class.

The RaceRunning bike is not like any bike; it is a three wheeled bike with no pedals which supports you as you walk or run. The bike can be used by children from 3-4 years through to adulthood. It is predominantly suitable for those with Cerebral Palsy, although it is also suitable for those with Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinsons Disease and other disabilities that affect mobility and balance. The low centre of gravity and frame design offers good stability and poise whilst running or walking. The saddle unit counter-acts lateral sway and also can be used as a seat when resting.

The success’s story of RaceRunning in Scotland belongs to Ayrshire’s boy, Gavin Drysdale, who won Young Scots Sports Award in 2012. When asked about the social enjoyment of this unique sports, he says “I can’t talk very well it is hard to be involved and to make friends. RaceRunning has helped me with a lot of things from getting me out and about, getting exercise and making new friends. These things are important for everyone but it can be much harder if you have a disability”.

Every Saturday mornings and alternate Friday evenings, Caroline devotes her time to running the Glasgow RaceRunning session which is based at Scotstoun Leisure Centre. Caroline, is so passionate about striving to create opportunity for young people and participation in sports. She was recently named ‘Evening Times’s Sports Volunteer of the Year’. She says “It took me a while to realise that I was volunteering to be honest. It is an honour that should also go to those who have helped and supported me achieve what I have. My main aim was and always will be to facilitate access to sport for all”.

With the enthusiasm about RaceRunning growing in Scotland, it won’t be long till it becomes an established sport on the world platform in years to come.

ParaCommonwealth Stories

The Funny Side of Lawn Bowls

One particular night is one that I won’t forget in hurray, thanks to the true friendship with Frazer Paton.

We decided on a much needed catch-up as both us have been incredibly busy lately that days run into weeks on end and we realize that we must do ‘dinner’ as we thoroughly enjoy each other company. The night was a testament of gratification, laughter, silliness etc.

Frazer was interested to know what I’ve been up to on ParaCommonwealth journey and how much a profound impact this journey had on me personally as its broaden my horizon and potentials.  I infilled him about the pleasure and enjoyment of the exposure of ‘Lawn Bowls’ lately!

Everyone knows what ‘Lawn Bowls’ is?!! Meanwhile, I was telling Frazer about ‘Lawn Bowls’ and the people I’ve come into contact with, the hopes and desire of Garry (a CP athlete) hoping to complete in the Parasport, Glasgow2014, ‘Lawn Bowls’ and I also went onto say that I was given ‘Junior Bowls’ because my hands are small and the big bowls are gigantic!

It seems everything I said up until now has been swimmingly followed until Frazer started quizzing me about ‘Lawn Bowls’! He asked where about at Kelvingrove can you play and how often can you go along and play. I said ‘You can go to Kelvingrove and it is open from 12 noon each day and it cost nothing to play’. Clearly, Frazer looked lost, he couldn’t believe that you could go along each day for free, something clearly wasn’t adding up in the way I had explained it and his facial expressions still continued to confuse me!

Frazer asked for clarity in what I said firsthand ‘Lawn Bowls’! LOL (Laughing Out Loud), he thought I had said something along the lines of ‘Strongbow’ (cider) or Long Bow which is used to Bow Arrow/Archery!  When I repeated myself in what ‘Lawn Bowls’ was all about and did a brief demonstration of it using my hand, he finally understood me and puts his head in embarrassment! He thought it was so funny in the way I had said ‘Lawn Bowls’! He refers it a Green Bowling! Both of us were in a state of tears and laughter hysterically. I could hardly stop laughing at him, he thought I was trying to make him look daft!

What a night and a tale to remember! Atleast now, Frazer understands what I mean! We will now be telling our friends about this episode!