Disabled people have been brought together to race around the world with the ‘At Home Winter Wonderwheels’, an event held by the Superhero Series- the UK’s only disability sport series. Invictus games and Strictly star JJ Chalmers talks about his involvement in the inclusive event. By Hannah Deakin
Photo: permission given by JJ Chalmers
“It is just an event which is good for the soul. It is a positive place to be. It is a place that I bring my family to. My daughter came to the Winter Wonderwheels with me last year. She was only 3 years old at the time, and I just thought it was a really important thing for her to experience. That unbelievable environment and positivity, it really teaches you something about yourself.” JJ is clearly animated about the Superhero Series.
“I have been involved with the Superhero Series ever since it first started. I worked with Sophia on the Rio Paralympics back in 2016, for Channel 4. I just found her energy, her excitement, her motivation completely infectious. When she asked me to get involved, first and foremost I just did it because it was someone I Iooked up to so much, asking me to do it and I wanted to do it and support her in a new endeavour and I, just knowing what she is like, I knew it was going to be something special. What does it mean to me now? It is two days of the year I look forward to so much, because it is the most wonderful community coming together, with the best attitude possible.”
The ‘At Home Winter Wonderwheels’ took place between the 5th November-6th December 2020. Participants were invited to join one of the five super teams for a virtual race around the world. The team captains for the super teams were: 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.
Up to 200 disabled people and their families joined each of the Super Team Captains in a virtual race around the world. Many of whom were also raising vital funds for charities. They were racking up the miles in their homes, in their living rooms or climbing the stairs, in their gardens, streets and parks to work together and achieve the mission. The challenge was held over a month and individuals set their own goal, wheeling, walking or running in a bid to help their team get there first.
Like most events, the Superhero Series has been disrupted by the pandemic. The Superhero Series team collaborated together and came up with a Covid friendly alternative, the At Home Superheroes in the summer and At Home Winter Wonderwheels.
The Superhero Series was founded by Paralympian Sophia Warner. It is an inclusive event, designed for disabled people and their friends and family. The series consists of two events, the Superhero Tri- a triathlon and Winter Wonderwheels- a push/run, held at Dorney Lake. Its mission is ‘where people with disabilities- AKA Everyday Superheroes- call the shots and don’t have to worry about cut off times or equipment restrictions’.
Due to the success of the at home events the Superhero Series are going to continue them alongside the established events. So, there will be four epic events each year.
“For me it is a very important challenge that I look forward to each year regardless of what I have got going on. It’s a great thing to clear your head and set yourself a goal and a target whatever that might be.” JJ shares.
When asked about his fellow superhero team captains JJ said: “They maybe my rivals but I respect them massively, every one of them is at the top of their game in their professions which gives me the hugest level of respect, I look to each of them as role models within the disability community and I think of them as friends.”
JJ Chalmers team came second in the race around the world team. They were beaten by Alex Brooker and his team storming to first place.
Anyone who has been to a previous Superhero Tri or Winter Wonderwheels event has experienced the electric atmosphere which is like no other. The smiling and welcoming faces, the buzz of energy and overwhelming sense of encouragement and team support. You are part of a community. There are no stares or feelings of awkwardness. Only inquisitive stares at the vast range of amazing and inventive equipment. Disabled people are not in the minority. If anything, non-disabled people are!
This atmosphere is something that is hard to achieve, especially remotely. Nevertheless, the Superhero Series team wanted to try and create a bit of the atmosphere and feeling of togetherness.
It was feedback from the summer At Home Superhero event that said that people missed the atmosphere of the event with everyone together at one venue. So, race around the world was born.
The team hoped to create the feeling of togetherness and competitiveness with the participants joining forces in the super teams to race around the world.
The At Home Winter Wonderwheels saw more solo participants enter than ever before amid increasing social restrictions. It is thought that individuals living on their own might have undertaken the challenge. It has kept them active, promoted positive mental health and a focus in a time of isolation. This would also echo why the race around the world mission was so important, as it was giving people that sense of community, when community presence in person is not possible.
JJ Chalmers was seriously injured in Afghanistan in 2011 whilst serving as a Royal Marine. He earned several medals at the Invictus games in 2014. Before turning to television presenting.
Photo: JJ Chalmers, when serving as a Royal Marine – permission given by JJ Chalmers
JJ Chalmers has not only been kept active by the At Home Winter Wonderwheels but with dancing. He was a popular contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, 2020, partnering Amy Dowden. JJ reached the quarter finals of Strictly Come Dancing. Before his last dance and final day of At Home Winter Wonderwheels he described his experience:
“Strictly is amazing, but it is absolutely exhausting, both physically and mentally, but it is just the most incredible experience. I love everything about it. I love being challenged, learning a new skill, I love the team that I get to work with every single day, and going out and proving probably to myself more than anyone that I can just about achieve what I set out to do. It is a seriously rewarding process but honestly there is nothing not to love about this it is just amazing.”
Photo: JJ Chalmers in Strictly Come Dancing – permission given by JJ Chalmers
JJ was completing his At Home Winter Wonderwheels on foot, as he was in London for Strictly and his trike was back in Scotland. He was aiming to do 6-10 km each Sunday as well as a short walk each day. I wonder how many kilometres he did in dance steps?
“My challenges for competing will be time, but also just energy but actually on the flip side you know with everything that is going on right now, my head is full of well everything. It is full of dance steps, it is full of stress and strain, it is full of just the worlds worries that I have, so I just want to make sure that I can get out and clear my head and there is no better way of doing that than going for a walk and getting some kilometres in while I am at it.”
The five super teams made up of mainly disabled people have virtually raced around the world. The mission has brought people together. Their superpowers have enabled them to succeed. Catch up with some of the highlights of their journey on Channel 4 on 12th December at 8:30am.
Disabled people from all different backgrounds, from those who can barely move a finger to others with an invisible disability have worked together to achieve. Are you inspired to sign up for the next event?
by Hannah Deakin reporting for Ability Today
For more articles by Hannah on Ability Today https://abilitytoday.co.ukauthor/hannahdeakin/
– Hannah’s Hope Blogger & Academy for Disabled Journalists Student
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