Wisbech resident Bryan Rowley is hoping to be streets ahead of the competition when representing Peterborough and the East Midlands region at Cribbage in the British Polio Fellowship National Indoor Games, held at the Leicester Marriott Hotel on 22-24 March.
As a former trustee of the charity and Regional Treasurer for the East Midlands branch, Bryan remains an active and much-respected member of the Fellowship and his attendance at the games reflects an association with the charity that dates back to 1946, when Bryan became the first child member.
Having been unlucky enough to contract Polio aged just 15 months in 1935, Bryan’s story is an inspiring one of courage and hope, not just to others living with Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), but for anyone facing disability and refusing to let it hold them back from living a full life.
Bryan’s parents were initially told by doctors there was little hope, but refusing to give up, his father sold his home and business and moved the family across the country in order to find the best possible treatment for Bryan – an amazing story of one family’s courage and love in pre-war Britain in pre-NHS days – when times were hard and such treatment had to be paid for.
Orthopaedic surgery over several years was very successful and led to Bryan leading a very full and successful life, attending university, working in local government and raising a family. His never say die attitude has led him to remain an active member of the charity and a regular attendee at the games where he will compete with around 140 members of The British Polio Fellowship who have made it to the finals in a range of disciplines from around the regions.
Anyone in the East Midlands and East of England who may have been affected by the impact of Polio or PPS, either individually or indirectly through friends and family can call The British Polio Fellowship on 0800 043 1935. Bryan is hugely supportive of the British Polio Fellowship, having been involved in the charity since 1946 and his father started local branches.
Bryan’s approach to his condition is refreshingly no-nonsense and is clearly imbibed from his own parents dogged determination not to give up on him and that Polio must not hold him back from pursuing his ambitions – then or now. “The way I see it you have two choices,” explained Bryan. “You can give up, or get on with it. I have known people who have just tuned to face the wall, given up and died – but I chose to get on with it.”
This ‘get busy living or get busy dying’ attitude is tied up with Bryan’s affection for the National Indoor Games. He has won several times at Cribbage in the past, but for Bryan and many others with Polio and PPS, the game as are about much more than winning – they are life affirming.
“As far as winning or losing goes, I take it as it comes,” added Bryan. “The thing about the games is it is a place where members from across the country can get together. The fact that it is such a great meeting place makes it a very popular event and a special weekend for all concerned.”
Having qualified from their regional heats in one of the 9 regions of the country, comprising East Midlands; Scotland; Home Counties; North of England; North West; South of England; Wales; Western; and Yorkshire, participants compete for a range of medals. Ten individual games will be played: Kurling; Bowls; Darts (standing); Darts (sitting); Boccia; Draughts; Cribbage; Dominoes; 5s and 3s; and Scrabble, with medals up for grabs in all categories and competition extremely fierce.
“What would be great is additional sponsorship for what is such a popular and key event in our calendar,” added Bryan. “While not on an Olympic scale, the games is an expensive event to put on, the Marriott is the prefect venue because not many places can cope with 70-odd wheelchairs.”
In attendance and lending his support at Leicester will be paralympian and London 2012 silver medal winner James Crisp, a keen ambassador for The British Polio Fellowship. Contracting Polio as a baby led to James eventually losing the use of his left leg. Having experienced this muscle wastage from such an early age James has always managed his lifestyle around his disability and rather like Bryan Rowley, hasn’t let it hold him back from achieving his dreams.
James Crisp said: “Contracting Polio was obviously a traumatic experience for my parents but one which I was luckily too young to really understand at the time. However, it has made me the person I am today and it’s the reason I am part of the British Paralympics Squad.
“I am a keen supporter of The British Polio Fellowship; working to raise money for the charity through my sponsors and supporters, in order to help others like me achieve their dreams and make the most of their abilities, not focus on their disabilities.
The Indoor Games is a unique opportunity for those with Polio and PPS to come together for the weekend from all over the country, keep the Olympic and Paralympic spirit alive and try and fulfil their dreams of achievement.”
Ted Hill, Chief Executive of the British Polio Fellowship, said: “It must be remembered that many of our members who have made it through to the national finals were strong competitors in many sports when they were younger, many having represented their region and country in the original British Polio Games which included track and field and swimming. Polio and PPS combined with older age means that most of our members can no longer compete in the more athletic sports and games, so the Indoor Games was born as a way of ensuring our members still had a national forum in which to compete and socialise.”
Whilst the level of competition is still incredibly intense and people are clearly ‘playing to win’, equally as important to those with Polio and PPS is the opportunity to catch up with old friends, swop notes about latest treatments and share experiences found to help with day to day living.