WHEN it comes to sport, disability does not mean no ability – as countless numbers of athletes from the Borders have proved time and time again at the highest levels.
But the sporting dreams of a great many other local youngsters are still being blighted by the effect of physical or learning disabilities.
Some of these youngsters will almost certainly have the potential to compete at elite level, while for others simply the chance to participate in a sporting activity could transform their lives. So much good work has already been done over so many years at all levels in the Borders to remedy this situation with a substantial degree of success – take the success of the region’s athletes at the Special Olympics as one example.
But these efforts suffered a body blow recently when the post of disability sports development officer – occupied by Jed Renilson for many years – and funded by Scottish Borders Council was scrapped as a result of cutbacks.
However, the appointment of former Southern sports editor David Ferguson as chairman of the Scottish Borders Disability Sports Group has seen the launch of a fresh appeal to rejuvenate efforts on behalf of local people whose sporting potential is still being hampered by not so much their disabilities, as their lack of ability to access sporting networks.
Now chief rugby writer at The Scotsman, Ferguson has donned the mantle of chairman from David Laing, who stood down last week after 10 years in the post.
Ferguson, who hails from Galashiels but now lives in Kelso, has been a long-time supporter of the group – which includes the highly experienced Renilson among the ranks of its volunteer army – and believes it fulfils a crucial role in Borders sports.
“I was delighted to be asked to take over as chairman and while it will be a demanding role, we have pulled together a new committee of enthusiastic volunteers to help to take the group forward again.
“I have to thank David Laing for his incredible work over the past decade and I’m delighted that David is staying on the committee and working with us going forward because his knowledge, experience and enthusiasm are invaluable.
“The group is a vital part of the fabric of Borders sport, linking in with Scottish Disability Sport, Scottish Borders Council and Borders Sport and Leisure Trust, because it provides opportunity to people of all ages and abilities across the Borders who want to take part in sport, whether just to have a go or to perform at a high level, and who find it difficult to access.
“Opportunity is a wonderful thing and sport can play a massive positive role in people’s lives. We have a terrific co-ordinator in Jed Renilson in the Borders, who has a wealth of experience and skills with athletes and with a strong enthusiastic committee we hope to strengthen sport in the region.”
Laing added: “I have really enjoyed my time as chairman of the group, but having this year been appointed chairman of the Scottish Association of Local Sports Councils [SALSC], it is difficult to continue to give the group the commitment it needs.
“But I am still on the committee and will be working closely with David and Jed as we take the group forward.”
Renilson, who still runs the Borders Special Olympics set-up, added: “The group has played a massive role in disability sport in the Borders and further afield, and athletes have enjoyed great experiences in local and international competitions as far afield as the USA and Greece – where we have two athletes right now competing – and across the UK and Ireland.
“But we want to help more people with disabilities or learning disabilities experience sport. So we need people to get in touch with us, get their names on our database and then we can let them know what opportunities are out there.”
Ferguson readily admits it was a controversial move when Scottish Borders Council scrapped its own disability sports development officer post.
He explained: “That had quite an impact on the group, losing a full-time dedicated individual pulling things forward. David’s involved with so many other things its tough for volunteers to try and pull a group like this together and do what is effectively a full-time job.
“So I came on board as president last year and offered my help to David. He had been wanting to relinquish the chair for some time and, after a bit of persuasion, I agreed to take over this year.”
Laing is keen to stress that the term ‘disability’ should not be used as much as ‘different level of ability’ when it comes to this particular group of sportsmen and women.
“They just have a different level of ability, that’s all. It’s about giving young people the chance to be the best they can be,” he said.
All three men are evangelistic when it comes to the powers of sport to improve the quality of life for those with physical or learning difficulties.
“It is important to give people the chance to be the best they can be and if that means going on to reach elite athlete level such as the Special Olympics that’s great, but the main thing is to give as many youngsters as possible the chance to take part in sport,” explained Ferguson. “The confidence and sense of achievement that can give children is fantastic.”
A main priority for the group is to see if enough sponsorship could be generated to fund a full or part-time development officer post.
Ferguson would also like to hear from any sports clubs in the region interested in supporting disabled athletes.
For more information on the Borders Disability Sports Group email David Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jed Renilson at email@example.com – alternatively, call 07554 893184.