British Wheelchair Basketball begins the world's first professional women's league in 2022, and Wellspect contacted athlete Sophie Carrigill earlier this year to talk about the issues surrounding disability and her advocacy for women in sport.
Sophie Carrigill has enjoyed success at club and international level and is an intermittent catheter user.
I've always been sporty, says Sophie. My father was a professional golfer and I've always been sports mad. After a car accident in 2010, I was discharged a year later and as part of my rehab, in-patients and out-patients would take part in the "Inter-Unit Spinal Games. I tried tennis, wheelchair rugby, table tennis – I picked up everything quickly. With the Back Up Trust, an organisation that supports those with a Spinal Cord Injury, I tried abseiling, rock climbing, horse riding, I realised that I missed the fulfilment of competitive sport – the adrenalin rush, it fired me up to get me back into playing.
So I began researching what was available in my local area, and the Leeds Spiders, a local wheelchair basketball club, were only ten minutes away. I was weak, had no idea how to use a chair, had no experience of the sport – I really was in the deep end at the beginning. But I had the hand-eye coordination needed to build the strength and build my fitness back up.
I stepped outside of my comfort zone and met people with inspiring and amazing stories – joining this community opened my eyes to what was possible.
Since those first tentative steps into the sport, Sophie has represented both club and country and uses her platform to advocate for improving access, representation and perceptions surrounding disability.
"It's overcoming the barriers and the environment that we live in" says Sophie, when speaking about these perceptions that society holds:
It's constant – it's what I live with, it's who I am, the way I'm perceived – I'm fighting the battle for everyone else, as well as myself, to be represented and respected as a disabled woman.
Sophie addresses a conference
And while there have been improvements, there is much work to be done:
For example, I've traveled a lot, and even when I book the one accessible room at a hotel, you can tell that it hasn't been designed by someone who has considered the needs of someone in a wheelchair, or who is blind, or an amputee.
Now in full-time training, Sophie has gained her MA in Sports Psychology, and plans to continue to be involved in raising the profile of women's sports in the next phase of her career:
I'm an Athlete Manager for the Women's Sports Trust and we're committed to supporting our athletes and raising the visibility and impact of women's sport.
Even if I am able to raise that visibility for other people, I want to be represented too – I want disabled women to be seen.
To quote Svenn Poulsen, upon the announcement of Wellspect's sponsorship of IWBF last summer:
"We have a deep understanding and respect of the challenges facing anyone who needs our products. We passionately believe in reducing inequalities and offering opportunity to all our users. Knowing the commitment and passion necessary to overcome obstacles and meet new challenges, we feel confident that our partnership with the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation will help demonstrate our joint vision of making a real difference."
Svenn Poulsen, Group Vice President, Wellspect Healthcare
Photo credit: http://www.sophiecarrigill.com