With gymnastics in lockdown in England for the past month, I thought this would be a good opportunity to run another feature, this time on Disability Gymnastics for adults. My guest for this blog is Ramsay who has previously competed for Great Britain at the Special Olympics in this discipline, but now participates in the sport for fitness and enjoyment and also as a coach.
Kat: When did you start doing gymnastics?
Ramsay: I started gymnastics when I was around seven, in recreational classes before joining a club with a disability section and competitive classes. I’ve been in the sport since then, but my first experience of adult gymnastics wasn’t until I was 18 and now I’m helping to coach our club’s adult class.
Kat: You say that you didn’t experience adult gymnastics till the age of 18, was there a difference and what would you say to someone who was considering taking up your particular discipline?
Ramsay: I had continued training and competing as a disability men’s artistic gymnast as an adult, but I found balancing my training and competitions with my studying, work and social life difficult. When I decided to stop formally training, our adult classes had restarted again and I decided I’d try to keep my skills and ability by going along as a gymnast often as possible. I’m now coaching at it again too! But I do find time to train between supporting and supervising.
I’d say to anyone interested in adult gymnastics to give it a go - you might think you’re not going to be able to keep up but the classes aren’t full of ex-athletes. There’s a huge ability and age range, and I’ve seen people who couldn’t do skills when they first joined before easily completing them and aiming higher a year later. Come in with an idea or a goal and there are people who will try to help you get there.
Disability gymnastics has no age limit and like adult gymnastics, it’s perfect for getting out, moving every part of the body, building up strength and socialising and experiencing new things. I’ve been very fortunate to compete at national competitions and represent Great Britain at Special Olympics twice, seeing the world and having amazing experiences.
Kat: And what does disability gymnastics involve?
Ramsay: Disability gymnastics isn’t too different from the other disciplines. You might find certain skills or exercises are more difficult to coach or train than others, and you need to find adaptations and alternatives for both physical and learning disabilities, but there’s nothing to stop a disability gymnast from being just as determined and skilled as any other gymnast.
Kat: Speaking of coaching, if clubs are looking to run disability gymnastics classes, or support adults with disabilities alongside existing adult classes, what sorts of things should they be doing?
Ramsay: For clubs and classes, a gymnast with a physical or learning disability can be as successful and capable as any other gymnast. Instead of focusing on what they can’t do or aren’t able to do, find what they can do and how you can adapt sessions and techniques to enable them. Involve them, ask them what they find works or helps them learn and grow. There is a broad range of disabilities and different needs, so you may find some gymnasts can integrate easily into a regular class while others may require more support and focused attention, so a dedicated session for disability gymnasts may be more appropriate.
Kat: How would you like to see disability gymnastics progress in the next 5 years?
Ramsay: It’d be fantastic to have a disability category within the ‘Vets’ (Adult British National Championships) competitions. There have been opportunities through the Scottish Formers adult gymnastics competition, though not in a separate category. Whilst some gymnasts are able to integrate via the mainstream route, others would benefit from the opportunity to have an adapted code of points and in a separate category.
Recently we have been invited to attend bigger events such as the British Championships and Scottish Championships under a disability category where it’s been amazing to compete on the same podiums as big names in British gymnastics and to be seen as athletes.
It's worth mentioning that not all gymnasts qualify for the Special Olympics (those with physical disabilities). It would be amazing to see greater awareness, and more opportunities for people with disabilities.