West Jesmond’s Beryl Bartlett will be flying the flag for Newcastle and the North East 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 Newcastle at Boccia (a variation on French Boules), Beryl will take her place in a team of 10 under the banner of the North of England, 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.
Having been desperately unlucky to contract Polio at the age of 13, Beryl has overcome everything life could throw at her, and despite increasing mobility issues due to the accelerating effects of Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), she still fancies her chances of winning the Boccia competition after losing her 2011 title at last year’s games.
Anyone in Newcastle and the North East 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.
Beryl is hugely supportive of the work of the British Polio Fellowship, having been involved in the charity since the 1950s; in the 1970s she was proudly crowned ‘National Snooker Champion’ at the Stoke Mandeville Games, which have now effectively been replaced by the National Indoor Games. Beryl remains the regional representative for the British Polio Fellowship North of England sports team, and is also chairman of the Newcastle branch. Reflecting on her condition, Beryl remains both optimistic and thankful. “I was lucky not to require an iron lung at the time I contracted Polio,” says Beryl. “It could have been a lot worse and I only had six months in hospital. But Polio does change your life, there’s no escaping from that. That’s why the Indoor Games are so important to me and to the many friends and competitors I meet there every year. We are desperate to win, you’d better believe it. But the competition for many is an excuse to meet up every year. Without the Indoor Games, we would have no regular forum to share our experiences, and to learn how others are coping with the debilitating effects of Polio and PPS on a daily basis.”
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 extremely fierce.
“I’d love to win again and get my title back,” said Beryl. “But at the end of the day we will all shake hands, have a good chin-wag, and learn what’s been happening to our friends from around the country over the past 12 months. When we meet annually at Leicester, we usually learn of new practical tips and therapies that can help us, which is just one of the reasons it is vital for the games to continue,” Beryl concluded.
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 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.