The boccia courts at Dubai Club for Disabled were set ablaze by the strength and determination of wheelchair athletes from all over the world at the Fazza BISFed (Boccia International Sports Federation) Open Regional Championship 2016–17.
The event started on April 15, Saturday with 56 elite boccia players from 10 countries that finally came to an end on April 19 with stellar performances.
This is the fourth edition of the championship with UAE as the hosts, who were represented by 13 players and the ranking points accumulated here will help in qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
The word Boccia (pronounced BAW-CHA) is derived from the Italian word for ‘bowl’ and is a precision ball sport that requires muscle control, accuracy and mental focus to throw the ball as close to the Jack or target white ball.
Boccia has been a Paralympic sport since 1984 and is reportedly practised in 50 countries worldwide.
The participants are divided into four groups; BC1, BC2, BC3 and BC4, according to the nature of their disability.
BC3 athletes usually have impairment in all four limbs, which is why they are often accompanied by their assistants and play the sport using assistive ramps.
The activity has given meaning to wheelchair athletes who never thought they would be able to play sports, but possessed a strong penchant for it like 18-year-old Spencer Cotie from Australia, who competed with the aid of his assistant, Alysha Winn.
“I am a really big sports fan and I thought I would never be able to play sports, but once I heard of Boccia and I tried it out, it really changed things for me. It gave me a chance to show my competitive side that I have always had,” Cotie told Sport360 through his assistant, Alysha Winn.
Cotie has been ranked 71 in the world, but at the Fazza BISFed championship he has beaten some top-ranked boccia players.
He is currently studying to earn his high school certificate and is aiming to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo.
The Australian teen was scouted by his coach Ken Halliday at his school and started training with him eight years ago.
Halliday saw Cotie’s playful spirit and immediately took him under his wing after convincing his parents to let him try out the sport.
He has been training with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for five years and won a bronze medal in BC3 individual category at the Fazza championship.
“Spencer is really excelling at a really fast pace and now we are in the semi-finals, which is really beyond all our expectations,” said Alysha Winn.
THE MOTHER-SON DUO
Like Spencer Cotie, Jong Ho kwon was another inspiring athlete who was present at the championship with his mother Ho Sun.
The 20-year-old hails from Korea and has cerebral palsy. His gym teacher in elementary school had asked his parents to let him try Boccia, but it wasn’t until middle school that he decided to give this sport a shot.
Throughout Jong Ho’s career as a Boccia player, his mother has been his one true constant and has seen him grow with the help of this sport.
“I noticed that his communication skills got better and he even became better at focusing on tasks. Boccia really helped him and he even has friends now,” she said.
Ho Sun is very dedicated to helping Jong Ho’s career reach new heights. Training everyday with Jong Ho caused her to develop a chronic back problem, but that didn’t stop her or her son.
“While I am assisting Jong Ho, I have to constantly bend and fix up the ramps for him and as a result of that I have constant backaches. When my husband saw my health failing, he really wanted us to quit and I almost did, but I spoke to him and I told Jong Ho that if he doesn’t work hard then I won’t be able to support him.
“It’s like my determination really touched him and ever since that point where we almost quit, Jong Ho has been training hard and whenever he wins a medal, he gives it to me as a present.
“Even if he gets disqualified from a competition he insists on staying through the rest of the competition so he can watch the players and learn from them to improve for the next match.”
Jong Ho is currently ranked number seven in Korea and 48 in the world.
He lost in the semi-finals to Spencer Cotie and finished fourth in the tournament.
However, with other competitions lined up there are plenty of opportunities for Jong Ho Kwon and other wheelchair athletes to keep working hard and improve their rankings.