ParaCommonwealth Stories

Evening Times’s ParaCommonwealth Reflection

It is hard to believe that it was two years ago when this ParaSports journey began, thanks to the editorial team at the Evening Times. They approached me and left me to lead it with guidance of my acquaintances, Matty Sutton, Simon Buckland, Gavin Sturgeon, Stacey Mullen, Helen Smith and more frequently my new co-pilot, Rachel Loxton.

Over the past two years, it is hard to look back on what I have accomplished on this journey for the Glasgow Evening Times, championing awareness of ParaSports as part of the Glasgow 2014 movement and embedding ‘Evening Times’ outcomes along with personal outcomes too.

TeamScotland_Parade150814 (4)The whole ethos of ‘leadership’ challenged and pushed me beyond my capabilities to produce the quality to a high professional standards. Given time, I quickly grew and acclimatised to the new vision of realisation of a different kind of leadership. I was able to take on three ‘jobs’. One, writing for the Evening Times, secondly, assigned tasks by Glasgow 2014 and thirdly, manned my PhD and my ParaSports Research Fellow post too.

During the last two years, I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Matty Sutton, (reporter for the Evening Times). She has chartered my journey since I came back from India 2011 and then unknown to both of us, we were on this ParaSports journey. Matty was there throughout my journey of trying out all the ParaSports which were cherished with fun, laughter and tears. 

When my fortnightly column was published routinely, I was placed under the watchful eye of Helen Smith, (News Editor for the Evening Times). Through her guidance, I mastered my own journalism style. (A far cry for a girl like me who left Special Needs education with very few qualifications and here I am ten years later writing articles.) More latterly, Rachel Loxton, (reporter for the Evening Times) took over from Matty to become my co-pilot in highlighting ParaSports stories. We had gelled well and that a bonus as teamwork is paramount in an editorial team.

Working with Glasgow 2014 was incredible and to witnessed the mobilisation of a huge workforce was tremendous. To work with Simon Buckland and Gavin Sturgeon was a privileged as they were involved in the front line of media stories.

Through the wave of engagements, I have engaged with so many interesting people within the whole 2014 adventure, looking at media, culture and sports. This had involved me going out to meet various people in different environments. These experiences, had undoubtedly stand me in good stead for the future.

Thankyou also to David Grevemberg, CEO of Glasgow 2014 for being part of the journey too and demonstrating what can be achieved with the power of championing ParaSports.

Also, thanks to Professor Gayle McPherson of the University of the West of Scotland for letting me be part of an international research team with Dr. Laura Misener,  Professor David Legg,  Professor David McGillivray and Kyle Rich, PhD student, to investigate the first comparative study of the social legacy of major sporting events, examining the impact of parasport being integrated into a mainstream sporting event before, during and after the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Finally, thankyou for the Evening Times for an amazing two years, you’ve tested me on my leadership and I have reap the benefits.  There is no doubts this journey will signalled a new chapter after the ParaSports quest finishes. 





ParaCommonwealth Stories

Game Changer Award 2014


Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland teamed up together to host a one-off award ceremony that recognises and celebrates the many contributions that staff and students in Scotland’s further and higher education sectors are making to ensure that Glasgow 2014 is a fantastic success and will deliver an enduring legacy for Scotland’s people.

The unique event took place on Thursday 3 April 2014, at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow.

It attracted more than 110 entries from staff and students from colleges and universities across Scotland with a total of 21 institutions producing winning entries. Guests included, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, Glasgow 2014’s Chief Executive David Grevemberg, former First Minister Rt Hon Henry McLeish and Glasgow 2014 mascot, Clyde.

gamechangerOur one was a finalist in the Research Impact Contribution alongside entries from University of Glasgow, as well as a collaboration between the Universities of Stirling, Dundee and Glasgow. This award category recognised the impact of research relevant to the Glasgow 2014 Games, its legacy goals and or to the enhancement of sport or understanding of the Commonwealth in Scotland.

I was thrilled to be part of the winning University of the West of Scotland Research team at the Game Changer Awards. It still hasn’t sunk in that my team has a GOLD award!

Photo Credit: Game Changer Awards 2014 – Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland.
Game changers awards Glasgow Fruitmarket 02/4/14 Pics-Geo Wright +44007889 736462

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!

ParaCommonwealth Stories

ParaCommonwealth Challenge – Lawn Bowls

I embarked on exploring the Parasports for Glasgow 2014 and I thought I would share the journey with you all.

Ron McArthur’s warmth and engaging personality made me put myself at ease while playing Lawn Bowls. However, I have to say this sports is initially challenging which requires a great deal of practice, focus and persistence. I must commend Ron’s dedication, patience and resilience for his duty and passion to play Lawn Bowls for years on end. Anne was such a pleasure to meet, her warm and charismatic personality made me so welcome too.

I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring and trying out Lawn Bowls. Ron, Anne and Garry made me so welcome and I can see that Lawn Bowls brings a great social scene for individuals to be part of this sports.Photographer: Ron McArthur

Afterwards when I was speaking to one of my friends about the Para-sports journey, she literally summed it up in a nutshell:

The Para-sports will be amazing challenge, very fulfilling I imagine.

Nice email’s comment from Ron McArthur:
It was a great pleasure to meet you, I really enjoyed our short coaching session and I was delighted with your enthusiasm and I hope you enjoy the rest of  the para sport equally well.  You have an ebullient nature and I am sure you will be able to adapt to what ever circumstances you find yourself in.

Testimonial from Ron McArthur

I have just had a fantastic coaching session with a remarkable young lady. Julie McElroy suffers from CP and the Glasgow Evening Times are doing a feature on this young lady. She is trying every Para Sport, that will be at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. She started with lawn bowls and the coaching took place at Kelvingrove. I was supported by Garry Brown, a SDS Internationalist, who also has CP. I am also grateful to Anne Dunwoodie and Taylor Bowls who supplied the bowls for Julie to play with.

This young lady does not allow her disability to get in her way, she has climbed the Andes, run marathons, canoes, nothing is impossible to her. A delight to meet and a pleasure to coach.

For all the Scottish bowlers, get yourself along to Kelvingrove, the ground staff have done a tremendous job. It is open from 12 noon each day and it cost nothing to play. Give it a go and help bed in the greens.

ParaCommonwealth Stories

Ron McArthur – A True Gentlemen

Ron McArthur who coached me for a session on Lawn Bowls was recognised by Scottish Disability Sports in September 2012.

Elspeth Watson Trophy: Ron McArthur

Person out with SDS who has  made a significant contribution to disability sport in Scotland:

  • This individual has been an exceptional friend of SDS since he first became involved in the Performance Bowls Group some four years ago.
  • He has contributed a significant amount to SDS national bowls sessions, Scottish teams travelling overseas and the development of bowls in Forth Valley where he has created strong links between the local Branch, SDS and Falkirk Indoor Bowling Club.
  • His contribution to the preparation of the Scotland squad prior to the IBD World Championships in South Africa was significant and he played a major role as a support coach to team manager Bob Dick throughout these Championships.
  • In his spare time, he has assisted with the SDS Education and Training programme and the development of ground breaking coaching resources.

Ron filled me in on a very moving story and his long association of Lawn Bowls.

I thought I would fill you in about this weird guy called Ron! 
I am a recovering Alky, my last drink was on the 17th July, 1977.   In my mid thirties, I started to play bowls.  I fell in love with the sport and supposed I changed 1 addiction for another. I found the game so friendly and although not one the best bowlers, I became engrossed in the sport.  In 1989, I qualified as a Scottish Bowls Umpire and have umpired at every possible level from club to World Championships.  I am a member of the Scottish Bowls Umpiring Committee.  A World Bowls International Technical Official Assessor (fancy name for top flight umpires)

Do you know Scotland has more ITO’s than any other country in the World.  We are simply the best. Although, I will not be responsible for selecting the 30 odd Scottish Umpires for Glasgow, I will be responsible for their training with regards to Marking and Umpiring the Visually Impaired and Physical disabled games.

I became a coach in 1991 and my ambition is to allow every single person in Scotland to try our sport.  In 2007, I was appointed National Coach for the Blind.  With very limited resources, they have achieved remarkable results.  We are working hard with our training and striving  to be the Gold medalists at Glasgow 2014.  We recently produced a training DVD for coaches and I will be covering Scotland ensuring every coach has been trained on VI coaching. In 2008, I became Ass Head Coach for SDS.  Again we have made great progress and in South Africa, 2011 at the IBD World Championships, Scotland moved to 2nd in the World.  Again, the Physically Disabled under Bob Dick’s coaching will be striving for Gold at Glasgow 2014.

I was also the first person ever to be elected onto both Bowls Councils, Bowls Scotland (formerly the SBA) for Outdoor Bowls and the SIBA  for Indoor Bowls.

As you can see, I am obviously addicted to bowls.  I think it is also worth pointing out, that all this is done purely on a voluntary basis.  That is another reason, I love bowls, we do what we do because we love it and not for what we can get out of it.  The more you put in the more you get out.
Photographer: Ron McArthur

ParaCommonwealth Stories

Taylor Bowls History

Done an undercover assignment to the factory of Taylor Bowls. Anne Dunwoodie, who the PR and Marketing manager for Taylor Bowls and whom I met on my first Para-sports assignment, has kindly agreed to give me a tour of behind the scene of making bowls.

THE  COMPANY     “ A  Brief  History”

The Company was founded in 1796 under the name of James Taylor.  In 1866 the name was changed to Thomas Taylor by the third generation proprietor.

It was initially a wood-turning business that listed, among  its early products, wooden legs for the wounded of the Napoleonic Wars and musical instruments.   Gradually the business of the company turned more towards the manufacture of bowling green bowls.

In the nineteenth century, when all bowls were shaped by hand to a template and consequently no two bowls were exactly alike, Thomas Taylor made and patented a machine for shaping bowls accurately.

To obtain absolute uniformity each set of bowls was made from the same log of lignum vitae and put through the shaping machine as a matched set of four.

In the same year that the shaping machine was invented – 1871 – the company also constructed the world’s first table for testing the bias of bowls.

The table had a slate bed, similar to that of a billiard table, which was covered with felt and canvas.  The Test Table used at Taylors today is the largest in the world, being 31 feet long by twelve feet wide and although the surface has been improved to prevent tracking, the concept has changed little from the original table in 1871.

From 2001 the world wide standard surface adopted by the World Bowls Board for the testing of bowls is that which Taylor’s have been using for the past five years.

One notable improvement was made in 1998, and that was the Linear Delivery System (LDS).  Rather than let bowls run down a ramp or chute onto the table surface, Taylor’s have developed the only Linear Motor powered system to propel the bowl onto the table similar to a human hand delivering the bowl on a green.  This is carried out with repeatable accuracy.

Whilst the game of bowls was growing in popularity and spreading through the Empire, a problem was arising…..the wood, lignum vitae
which was an ideal material for bowls in cooler climates was not suitable for the conditions of hotter and drier climates. Also at this time  the quality of lignum vitae was deteriorating and the supply of good heart wood was becoming scarce.  A different material had to be found.

After much research a  PHENOL-FORMALDEHYDE  powder became the raw material for bowls.

This “composition” moulded and then machined into a bowl, proved to be the solution to both problems.

The company manufacturers its own mouldings in-house and machines them into bowls at this site.  It also sells a small percentage of its mouldings to other bowls manufacturers.