Crawley’s Mary Gillies will be flying the flag for Sussex and the South of England and going for gold in Leicester, when she competes in the British Polio Fellowship National Indoor Games at the Leicester Marriott Hotel (22-24 March). Representing The South of England region at Scrabble, Mary will take her place in the South of England squad, competing with around 140 members of The British Polio Fellowship who have made it through to the finals in a range of disciplines from around the regions.Mary was only five years old when she was unlucky enough to contract Polio in the last major UK epidemic back in 1956 but has not let Polio hold her back. She is a regular attendee at the National Indoor Games and is both Secretary and Sports Coordinator of the South of England region of The British Polio Fellowship.
Anyone in the South 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.Having been actively involved with the British Polio Fellowship for many years; Mary remains hugely supportive of the work the charity does, both in her position as regional secretary and her skills at the Scrabble table. Mary is particularly forthright about the importance of the National Indoor Games and its incalculable value to those living with Polio and PPS.
“The National Indoor Games is about more than just sport or even taking part,” explained Mary. “It’s a whole combination of things. It’s the one national event those with Polio have where we all get the chance to compete and socialise and this makes it very special. One of the first things I do at the end of every games is take all the requests from people wanting to come again next year! I also try to organize the regional games when I can.”
For Mary, sport combined with competition and socialising, while important, is not what makes the games special. It is something more significant, if less tangible that gives the games its enduring popularity among the community of those living with Polio and its effects.
“The games is a once a year opportunity, the one chance to talk to others and its surprising what bits and pieces can come out of these conversations,” added Mary. “It’s hard to explain, but you find you are not the only one and the tips and advice people have can make a big difference.”
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 will compete for a range of medals. 10 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 the competition is extremely fierce.
“I’m looking forward to the games as always and while I would like to win, it really is about taking part,” said Mary. “You get to catch up with friends from all over the country and make new ones. I really would encourage people who have never been before to come along. It’s a very welcoming event and no one is isolated. Anyone who finds themselves alone will find someone coming over to have a chat and say hello, so you have nothing to lose and a great deal to gain by joining us.”
In attendance and lending his support to the participants at Leicester will be paralympian and London 2012 silver medal winner James Crisp, a keen ambassador for The British Polio Fellowship. Having contracted Polio as a baby from vaccine damage, this 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 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 PPSto 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.