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“How Sport and Physical Activity Changed My Life”

Elaine Gordon, from Angus, remembers sitting out during parts of her P.E lessons due to a lack of understanding of her disability from her teachers. Now, after returning to education as a mature student and getting involved with Get Out Get Active (GOGA) Tayside, she has ignited a passion for bowls with team sports being something she never imagined as possible due to living with Kyphoscoliosis.

Elaine with fellow students taking part in the Groove with GOGA session.

Elaine first heard of GOGA during lockdown when activities were only available online. It wasn’t until she returned to university that she had realised exactly what the programme was able to offer. She was missing the social interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the University of Dundee’s Freshers Fair, she discussed her concerns with the GOGA team who assured her their activities are entirely person-centred. And that the sessions for people of all abilities to be active together. Although Elaine enjoyed her studies and embraced the opportunity to retrain to rejoin the workforce upon graduation, she felt overwhelmed at university and that her experience had been lacking the social element.

She reached out to Candy Preater, Advice & Support Co-ordinator at Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA). Candy worked with the GOGA team to set up different on-campus activities. Being a full-time student commuting to the campus daily, this made it possible for Elaine to attend.

Elaine said “I really enjoyed these classes, and my fiancé could not help but notice the big smile on my face which also brightened up his day. It was through this opportunity that I could begin to understand how exercise and sport could help give me those things that I had longed for - to feel part [of] a group, with all the added benefits that brings, whilst improving my mental and physical health.”

She always wanted to be a part of team sports but didn’t think it would be possible. So, she decided to contact GOGA to ask about opportunities.  She said, “I can remember being shocked when they replied to my email asking me what I would like to do. I was so used to being told what I could and could not do.”

Thirty years before this, Elaine’s grandfather had encouraged her to try out lawn bowls but surgery on her spine meant this wasn’t possible. Witnessing the fulfilment the sport gave her grandad, she knew that she wanted to try lawn bowls. Elaine wants to prove to people that it’s a “-very inclusive all-year round precision sport”.

The GOGA team got in touch with Robert Christie, Para Bowls Head Co-ordinator at Bowls Scotland, on Elaine’s behalf. This led to him inviting her along to a session with the visually impaired group at Dundee Indoor Bowling Club. Attending the group, she has built new friendships and can see an improvement in her health and wellbeing.  Elaine stood smiling at the Scottish National Championships.

May 2023 saw the official start of Elaine’s lawn bowls journey, after joining Balgay Bowling Club. She has already taken part in mixed ability events. She has teamed up with a current Scottish para-internationalist and participated in disability games. Including singles’ and doubles’ matches against Commonwealth Games gold medallists and the current singles’ world champion. She has attended events throughout Scotland, which allows her to make friends from all over the country. She even came home with a bronze medal from the 2023 Scottish National Championships in Ayr.

The Scottish National Championships saw a good crowd attendance, which she admits made her very nervous. So much so, she was shaking putting the mat down and had to be reminded to smile by her fiancé, Martin (which helped her relax into her performance)!

Elaine is very thankful for Balgay Bowling Club making her feel so welcome, allowing her to play in non-disabled games against different teams. Members have even offered to push her wheelchair when her partner could not attend.

Elaine expresses the kindness and camaraderie she has experienced on this journey, “this dream would not have been possible without the support of DUSA, GOGA, Robert Christie, Jim and the visually impaired group, my late grandad, and my fiancé who drives me to events and pushes my wheelchair. In general, whether it’s Kirriemuir where I occasionally pop in for a quick practice, or the clubs I have played against, I’m always greeted with a warm welcome with more experienced bowlers always there to share their knowledge and experience. Finally, I would also like to thank Ramsay Kyle at Carnoustie Bowling Club for lending me a chair until mine arrives from the Scottish Bowlers’ Fellowship.”

Give bowls a go - what have you got to lose? It truly is a game that can suit everyone! Bowls can be played by young and old, and there are many adaptations that can be implemented to encourage more people to take up the sport.

Elaine Gordon

This story is part of our campaign, #TheGOGAWay. Showing how the GOGA approach can help organisations do things differently across the UK. 

About Get Out Get Active

Get Out Get Active (GOGA) is a programme that supports disabled and non-disabled people to enjoy being active together. Activity Alliance is the creator and lead partner. The programme is funded by Spirit of 2012, Sport England and London Marathon Foundation. 

Find out more about Get Out Get Active here.