Three years of Elin's Sports Day - Team Egypt 2013, Team France 2014, Team Wales 2015.
So around came the annual morning of watching the sky, praying it doesn't rain and watching Elin, praying she will sit in her chair long enough without an attack of dystonia in order to take part in at least one race at Sports Day. Last year wasn't so successful- Elin spent most of the day under a gazebo having firmly decided she wasn't for taking part (I think she gets her attitude towards exercise from me! ). This year, happily, was a different story, and though I knew it would be hard to beat the great Egyptian costume of 2013, Elin was looking pretty on-point in her Welsh footballers kit complete with wheelchair flags and inflatable, squeaky Welsh Dragon. Although the wind 'was a bit keen' as my Mum would say, which Elin is never happy about, she did really well in her chair and had a wonderful afternoon. To top it all, team Wales won! Hurray! Aunty Karen was there to cheer on Elin's victory and even took part in the Mum's race on my behalf. I was DYING to take part obviously, but to be honest I had the wrong bra on. You know what I mean. Oh, and the wrong shoes. Either way things could have got very disastrous, so I decided to play it safe. Plus, I'm saving all my energy for the London Marathon.
Anyway, as usual Elin's Sports Day was pretty humbling, amazing, gorgeous, cute and a tad emotional. I remember I was absolutely TERRIFIED going to her first Sports Day (she was team Spain, in 2012. I can't find a photo-boo!) . I feared it would be a sad occasion for me and that I might be forced to smile as I watched my daughter take part in a wheelchair race with her class mates as all the mainstream parents looked on, thanking god that their child was not in THAT race and feeling sorry for the parents of the children who were. HOW WRONG was I??? It's laughable now that I used to think Sports Day was going to be some sort of jarring, heartbreaking day that I just had to get through, but you have to remember that I had no frame of reference for anything like this at the time. Luckily for me this is not the way Elin's school do things and it took all of five minutes on that first Sports Day four years ago to realise my fears were completely unfounded.
The children march from school onto the field in their various teams, resplendent in their countries' colours and covered in props (my favourite this year were probably the home-made 'cork' hats team Australia were wearing). There is no segregation, only inclusion. You would do well to spot the children from the ALN unit amongst the mainstream children as they arrive in a flurry of noise, chaos and laughter. There is no dreaded 'wheelchair race'. The children from Elin's school simply join in with each year-group race depending on their age. The children from mainstream assist the ALN children, which is an honour they actually argue over, such is their enthusiasm to help and want to 'be a good friend' as the stickers adorning their T-Shirts suggest (In a move typical of Elin's school to encourage inclusion and not simply condescendingly praise able bodied children for being friends with the ALN children, BOTH lots of children had these stickers, something so simple and seemingly small but SO BIG, and so right, to those of us who notice). This inclusion is not exclusive to Sports Day, either. The children from both parts of the school integrate at various and regular opportunities. This is clearly an invaluable experience for both sets of children and you don't have to spend long in the company of them before realising the relationships between them, fostered and celebrated by school staff, are anything but forced. It's a mutually beneficial and happy arrangement that I wish every school in the country could emulate. Sadly of course that is impossible so I can only hope the parents of the children in the mainstream part of Elin's school realise what a fantastic opportunity their children are getting and what an amazingly rounded outlook on life they are experiencing , free from fear or accidental prejudice or ignorance, and that the parents of the ALN part of the school realise the same thing :-) If the reactions I saw on Sports Day to the beautiful interaction amongst the children were anything to go by, then the parents are more than aware. It really was a wonderful atmosphere. No sympathy, only empathy. Support, friendship, love and understanding. (Is that a Cher song?) Anyway, as you can probably tell, Sports Day at Elin's school is something special, particularly because it's not special at all :-) It's just how it is.
Go Team Wales!!!