Ability Today volunteers are embracing the challenge of racing around the world for the latest event of the Superhero Series – the UK’s only disability sports series. This year it’s an ‘At Home Winter Wonderwheels’. Ability Today reporter Hannah Deakin has been learning more from one of the team captains - Paralympian Anne Usher MBE.
Anne Usher dressed up as Captain America for the At Home Winter Wonderwheels
“There is no feeling of being second class or trying to keep up…It is about being you and the best version of you.” Although it is only a video call between us, I feel Anne’s passion and enthusiasm for the event coming across.
Anne applauds Sophia Warner, on founding the Superhero Series and thinking about how she can get the least able person involved:
“If you can make something work for the person with the most needs then that is the most inclusive and beautiful thing to do, because then it works for everybody, and that is what is important about the Superhero Series.”
The Superhero Series is an inclusive event, designed for disabled people and their friends and family. A motto of ‘where anything goes’, there are no cut off times or equipment restrictions and people with all disabilities are welcome. There are two events held each year, at Dorney Lake, Buckinghamshire, the Superhero Tri- a triathlon and The Winter Wonderwheels- a push/run.
Anne explains why they are so important: “People with additional needs deserve more events where they can take part and they are not limited on what they can do, by someone without a disability going no, that is not right you can’t do it that way.”
She describes the conversations you hear at the Superhero Tri as like “the most incredible meetings of minds … The Mums looking after children with additional needs have to be creative, they have to be resilient because the path is not easy for them, so they come up with some incredible solutions, and to hear them sharing their solutions with each other is mind-bending.”
Like most events, the Superhero Series has been disrupted by the pandemic. The Superhero Series team put their heads together and came up with the At Home Superheroes in the summer and At Home Winter Wonderwheels. With the At Home Winter Wonderwheels including the challenge of virtually racing around the world.
The At Home Winter Wonderwheels takes place this year between the 5th November-6th December. Participants are invited to join one of the five super teams for a virtual race around the world.
The team captains for the super teams are: JJ Chalmers- Team Spider-Man; Adam Hills-Team Black Panther; Alex Brooker- Team Iron Man; Anne Usher- Team Captain America and Sophie Christiansen- Team Captain Marvel.
Anne was an endurance mountain biker until she ruptured a disc in her back in 2011, then developed Cauda Equina Syndrome which resulted in permanent nerve damage in her leg. Now she is a Paralympic canoeing gold medalist. She competed at Rio in 2016 and won gold as well as several other European and World Championships. Anne is also a working physiotherapist.
There are many positives from the At Home Superheroes and At Home Winter Wonderwheels. The virtual event has enabled Sophia to open up the door to other disabled people, who maybe couldn’t travel, or have Autism and are not good with crowds, to be included.
Anne explains: “It is a beautiful way to get a community, and a really supportive community of like-minded people, and no one has the same body, but so what, it is about like minds coming together and the atmosphere and positivity is huge.”
“The Superhero Series is all about getting everyone to the finish line and preferably the biggest smile on their face possible. I absolutely say that I reckon facial muscles are the ones that are used the most at the Superhero events, through smiling and talking.”
Anne has been using her tandem and walking to complete the Winter Wonderwheels with her husband. She is trying to work out how they could include yoga too, but doesn’t think it will make up many miles! In the summer she put her GPS on to see how many miles she would walk around the house on a busy day, when chores were beckoning and she could not get out. She recalled that she managed to rack up 3km doing housework. I wasn’t sure this lived up to the team Anne superpower-fun, though! Anne describes the Winter Wonderwheels as something that has given her a ‘purpose’ during the second lockdown.
Anne and her husband (her sidekick) cycling on their tandem during the At Home Winter Wonderwheels
“The Winter Wonderwheels isn’t about smashing targets, it’s about having fun.” Anne and her husband’s goal is to do something every day. With the biggest goal of all, being having fun.
“It is genuinely about your personal journey around the world, and if you want to have a picnic in Belgium, France, Bulgaria and Japan and do the sightseeing then that is your journey.”
“Often having a disability is quite a lonely experience, because everyone’s disability is individual and you can feel very isolated, as if you’re a pioneer trying to get answers on your own.”
When asked which team was going to win race around the world Anne chuckled: “Well us, of course! We are going to win because we are going to be smiling when we go over the finish line, and that to me that is my definition of winning.”
And she has a message for her rivals:
“Don’t get complacent, because my strength is my ability to push over the line, when you might be slightly getting ready to cheer for yourself, you might have taken your eye off where you are going! A big pat on the back for doing such a fabulous job getting your team mates so far around the world.”
Lockdown may have forced disabled people to change plans, including some of the Ability Today team, however Anne compliments disabled people on having this superpower: “One of the things people with disabilities are so good at, is doing things differently and if you can’t do it one way you don’t give up.”
Competitors can set their own distance - 100metres or 2000km, whatever is a personal challenge. Whilst dressed as Superheroes (inspired by your team captain), they can walk, wheel, run or any method you chose to achieve a goal.
Ability Today has two teams taking part - Team Grant and Team Sarah. Team Grant is on Alex Brooker’s Race Around the World Super Team and Team Sarah is on Anne Usher’s Super Team. The rivalry is there! The teams are hoping to raise some funds for Ability Today in their missions.
Ability Today is a social enterprise scheme that supports disabled people. It was founded by Grant Logan. On top of the online directory, roving reporter and volunteer opportunities, he has also set up the Academy for Disabled Journalists, supporting disabled people on a pathway to journalism.
Sarah and Grant’s teams are racking up the miles in a variety of ways. By walking, doing laps of their garden, running and wheeling.
Several members of the team have had to adapt their plans due to lockdown, but this has not held them back. Olivia couldn’t use her racing wheelchair as it is held at her club, which has had to close during lockdown. So, she has been wheeling to and from the shops in a bid to support her team.
Natasha, who even sports a Team Iron Man bag said: ‘Some days have been a challenge for me to commit to doing the walking due to my depression. But once motivated I am extremely proud of myself for achieving over 30km.’
According to Sarah, she has even come back ‘looking like a drowned rat’. The team are not being stopped by the weather! “I tend to go out running in the dark,” adds Sarah. “That way nobody can see me.”
Grant is impressing his team with the miles he is managing to wheel, whilst rising to the challenge. “So great to be taking part in the Winter Wonderwheels this year and helping us support all the great charitable organisations. Let’s keep pushing and running to hit our goals!”
While Lockdown has prevented many disabled people from getting out and about, Anne readily admits she is quite grateful not to be actually racing in some countries around the world. She says some places like Nepal might prove a challenge: “Nepal is a beautiful, beautiful country… it is incredibly hilly, you can’t really go anywhere without going uphill or downhill, so that would be difficult… I would love to cycle through Iran, but you are not allowed to, well you can but you have to have an Iranian guide with you.”
Anne explained: “When we got to Japan, it felt like a really special day on the virtual around the world challenge, because obviously that is where the Paralympics is going to be next year.”
Despite the Pandemic, Anne remains confident that this years At Home Winter Wonderwheels will work its magic. For her and the competitors it’s the experience that matters far more than the final result:
“That is what I love about the Superhero Series is the utter creativity of everyone just coming together and making it work.”
“Success is very transient, but it is the journey and the gains along the way that are absolutely permanent.”
“To anyone who is having a bad day, all you need to do is go and spend some time at a Superhero event and you cannot leave it not feeling completely uplifted and joyful.”
by Hannah Deakin reporting on 'WinterWonderwheels' for Ability Today
For more articles by Hannah on Ability Today http://www.abilitytoday.comauthor/hannahdeakin/
– Hannah’s Hope Blogger & Academy for Disabled Journalists Student
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