More than 250 people with physical, sensory, intellectual and learning disabilities are set for a ‘splashing’ good time this weekend when they take to the water for the third annual Watersports Inclusion Games.
This year’s participants will have the opportunity to try more sports than ever before, with an expanded range including sailing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, rowing, surfing, water skiing and powerboating all on offer. The Games take place at Kinsale Yacht Club in Co Cork on 24th-25th August.
The Watersports Inclusion Games are an award-winning event organised by Irish Sailing with partners from across the watersports sector, that enable people of all abilities from the physical, sensory, intellectual and learning spectrums to take to the water to participate in a wide range of water activities.
Two-time participant John O’Grady said: “The Inclusion Games are a fantastic way of introducing many different watersports to people who might not have thought it possible to get wet. I’ve been to the last two events and I think they’re fantastic – I’ve loved introducing my friends to sailing in particular.”
Participants range in age from pre-teens to seniors and come from across the country. Some are repeat attendees, and some will be first timers. The activities are tailored to each participant’s level and ability – so no two experiences will be the same. At last year’s Watersports Inclusion Games, there were wheelchairs on Stand-Up Paddle Boards, visually impaired participants sailing solo in Galway Bay, thrilling fast-boat rides, and a hotly contested match of kayak waterpolo.
Organiser Johanne Murphy said: “Irish Sailing promotes sailing as a ‘sport for all, a sport for life’. We believe in inclusion and the elimination of barriers to accessing sport, so that sailing and other watersports can be more readily available to the one in seven (13.5%*) of people in Ireland who have a disability.” (*2016 Census)
The organisers of the Games want to let people of all abilities know that there are multiple watersports available to them, and to encourage more people from all backgrounds to get involved and out on the water regardless of ability. They aim to highlight that any barriers faced by people with disabilities can be eliminated.
There are social, health and wellness benefits associated with sailing and all watersports. These include improved muscle strength and endurance, improved cardiovascular fitness and increased agility, enhanced spatial awareness, greater mental wellness through the balancing of serotonin levels and the lowering of stress levels, improved concentration and the forging of positive relationships.
Allison Gibbons, whose son Christopher took part last year, said: “The Games introduced Christopher to sailing. Christopher displays challenging behaviour and can be quite difficult to be around, but the amazing volunteers took it in their stride, never made him or me feel bad and helped him participate as much as he was able. It was inspirational”.
Harry Hermon, CEO of Irish Sailing, added: “This is the third year of the Watersports Inclusion Games and they’re successful because of the many different strands that come together behind a single purpose, to get everyone afloat enjoying and benefitting from watersports. There are at least 11 different organisations involved in the Games – and at least 150 volunteers. Together we want to raise the profile of the Games so that everyone around the country becomes aware that sailing and other watersports are accessible to them, no matter what their circumstances”.
Irish Sailing, in partnership with Canoeing Ireland, Rowing Ireland and Cork Local Sports Partnership, together with Kinsale Yacht Club Sailability, Kinsale Outdoor Education Centre, Irish Wakeboard and Waterski Federation, Surf 2 Heal, Spinal Injuries Ireland and Sailing into Wellness are organising this event.
Photo: David Brannigan / Oceansport