Friday, March 27, 2015

Para-cycling and the Road to Rio 2016

Dame Sarah Storey won Women's C-5 500m TT PIC Bryn Lennon Getty
This week the 2015 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships take place in Holland with cyclists competing for valuable places in Rio2016.

For me Paralympians are some of the most inspiring sports women you can find. These are women carrying injuries or illnesses which in the past would have relegated them to a life in bed or even locked away in an institution. Today you see them on the roads biking at high speed, running, throwing discus and generally representing themselves to an incredibly high standard.

It's probably fair to say the gap between the Olympics and the Paralympics is closing - people are begining to see past the disabilities and just see athletes striving to succeed. It started with Bejing to a certain extent but it was really the London Games which dragged the Paralympics onto the stage.

Cycling was my first "in" to the world of Paralympics. I interviewed Irish para-cycylist Catherine Walsh in early 2012 and followed her journey to the London Olympics. Walsh raced with partner Fran Meehan on specially designed tandem bikes - gathering a collection of medals including Paralympic Silver that year.

Since then I've met swimmers, discus throwers, runners, footballers. And now with this latest championship it really feels like Rio2016 is getting closer. Over the next few months would-be Paralympians will be competing for those final precious places on the teams.

I'll be updating on this blog. Obviously with a focus on the Irish team but if you know of anyone I should feature who is competing in your area or your country, let me know. I'll also be taking a look at the classification system for each sport as that is central to the principles of the Games.

This video will take you back to the glory days of London2012 - a taster for what we have to look forward to over the next few months.

Have a good weekend!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sport and pregnancy; surfer Bethany Hamilton
Bethany Hamilton PIC via SplashNews

The moral police are out again and I'm not talking global politics here. Surfer Bethany Hamilton has brought wrath down on her head because - wait for it - she's continuing to surf during her pregnancy.

Imagine that. A fit and healthy woman wanting to stay that way while pregnant - so avoiding obesity, gestational diabetes, easing back pain and decreasing the chances of post-natal depression. (that's the Mayo Clinic talking)

You'd think knowing Hamilton survived a shark attack at 13 and went onto become a successful surfer that people would give her some credit for understanding her own body. Mpora's surf editor wrote a guest post for this blog a while back on Hamilton's amazing journey.

But apparently the idea pregnacy is an illness and the only way to survive is by sitting down for nine months is still going strong. Hamilton has been forced to come out defending herself; pointing out she's not exactly taking on big waves,and has modifed her routines. 

One doctor told an American newspaper: "Surfers have a chance of falling in the water, and hitting big waves can cause trauma to the abdomen". 

Some poignant comments on pregnancy websites about the risk of miscarriage clearly came from tragic personal experience, possibly spilling over into judgements I thought. But then I haven't been in their shoes.

PIC VIA Bethany Hamilton Instagram
It's not been all negative coverage to be fair. A poll carried out for one of the UK papers found 75% of respondents agreed with Hamilton's decision with just one in four saying no.  

That's still quite a lot of nay-sayers I think - although it may reflect the level of inactivity in the country. Similarly to Ireland rates of obesity are shooting up in the UK and people who don't exercise are unlikely to understand the benefits of exercising while pregnant. 

Personally I wish I could stay up on a board for longer than 30 seconds even while not pregnant. 

Congratulations to Hamilton and husband Adam Dirks from this blog at least!

What's your thoughts - where's the balance or are there any rules when it comes to exercise and pregnancy?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Is child boxing in Thailand about sport or work?

What do you think when you see two young girls in a boxing ring fighting? Real fighting I mean, not just a little cute tap followed by a giggle. Think about that, then watch this trailer for Buffalo Girls and read on ... 

Buffalo Girls - Theatrical Trailer from Buffalogirlsthemovie on Vimeo.

Described as "an unflinching look at Thailand's underground world of child boxers" Buffalo Girls is not a film you can forget easily, or even watch easily. I have mixed reactions, reactions conditioned by spending much of my adult life loving MuayThai, fighting it, talking it and watching it shape our lives. 

The opening shot of a yawning ricefield says it all for me. This is why the vast majority of Thais take part in their national sport - to make a living. It's akin to how soccer transforms the dour housing estates of Northern England or the favelas of Sao Paulo - but more painful, more brutal and yet somehow more beautiful too. 

When Stam says: "I want lots of money", you could take those words and put them into any fighter's mouth. It's a living pure and simple. That's why so many Thai kids fight, run before school, train after school (usually after running back to the gym from school, all while wearing their brown plimsolls). And inevitably leave school early to fight and train. 

That's not to say fighters aren't proud of what they do, and love their sport. They just love that it pays the rent and puts rice on the table as well. 

So when I see these girls fight, I smile and am weirdly proud they get to put that rice out for their families. But it also makes me angry - Thailand's military goverment says the economy is avoiding recession, that the worst is over. But if the worst is over, why are these girls or girls like them still fighting today not competing for fun or simply to represent their school?

They break arms, they break legs; one of the trainers drops this casually into the narrative. Of course they do, these are trained fighters. In a way they're not two children anymore, they're more adult than the grown men betting around them. Except without the betting, they would just be two kids in a ring. 

Without the paycheck and the 'side bets', they wouldn't need to lift weights or pound out the kicks till they drop. That way winning wouldn't be the difference between paying the rent or not. 

What depth of poverty convinces parents to send their child out to work? I worry in the excitement of seeing how talented these girls are, we forget what's really happening here.

Links on Buffalo Girls The Movie to watch the full film.

And thanks to blogger/ fighter Emma Thomas for her list of MuayThai documentaries on her blog Under the Ropes which reminded me of this.
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