With the profile of Paralympic winter sport continuing to grow, we spoke to Margarita Sweeney-Baird, founder of Inclusive Skating, to highlight the work going on in the inclusive ice skating community, and to find out more about how people can get involved in the sport.
While ice skating is not currently a Paralympic sport, Margarita has high hopes that it will be introduced into the Paralympic programme in the near future. It is currently in the Special Olympics World Winter Games, the next edition of which will be held in Kazan in 2023.
How important are major sporting events like the Winter Paralympics in increasing disabled people’s involvement in sport?
The benefits from the media coverage of sporting events are considerable because there is increased awareness of potential opportunities. After our Virtual World Championships, we have received interest from many more new skaters across the UK and the world. As a result, the number of people participating in our programmes is constantly going up.
However, to take advantage of this awareness, there needs to be available opportunities with suitable, trained volunteers. There also needs to be a coaching workforce able to coach skaters with additional needs – we are doing our best to provide that workforce. We also provide opportunities for personal and emotional development. We find that people with additional needs continue their involvement in skating if their total wellbeing is enhanced – that is certainly the feedback that we get from our community.
How would someone who has never taken part before get involved in skating?
Anyone who wants to get involved can email Inclusive Skating at this address – email@example.com – to find out what support is available. You can also register on our website as a member – see what membership packages are available here.
Inclusive Skating has a network of volunteers and coaches who can help you get started, and there is also funding available. Once you have made contact, we’ll be able to provide a bespoke service to support you as best as we can. We understand that everyone is different and has different needs, and it’s not a one size fits all approach.
Are there any initiatives you are running at the moment to encourage people to take part?
Yes, for those who register with Inclusive Skating, there are special individual sessions available to participate in. These sessions will be led by coaches, who will be ready to introduce beginners to the sport. This initiative will run until July 2022, so there is still plenty of time to get started!
What do participants gain from being involved in the sport?
Skating is such fun and there’s a fabulous community around the sport who provide support and a sense of belonging. The benefits are physical – for fitness, balance and strength – as well as mental, which is just as important.
What do people already taking part in Inclusive Skating say about it?
Michelle Dunn, who volunteers at some of our sessions, was very positive about the impact it has had on her daughter, Murron:
“My daughter found somewhere where she was accepted for who she is. It’s a kind of therapy for her as well. It’s not just a sport. It means more than just a sport to her. She calls it her happy place. This is where she works out what is troubling her in her head if she’s had a rough week. It’s her time and she actually said to me that she feels ‘like a bird that has been let out of a cage’.”
Do you have any advice for someone dreaming of becoming a Paralympian in your sport?
Keep training and working hard, but also have fun skating – it’s a wonderful sport! It’s also only a matter of time before it is included in the Paralympic programme, so the door will be open to young skaters soon.
What professional skating events should we look out for?
The Inclusive Skating Virtual World Championships 2022 are scheduled for November. The next location events will be held as soon as there is a sufficiently stable environment for skaters with additional needs to travel safely.
How can people follow the sport long-term?
Anyone who registers with Inclusive Skating will be kept up-to-date with what is going on in the Inclusive Skating community. You can also look at our Linktree, which contains a number of links to information about what’s going on in the sport.