That is the view of local Lincolnshire resident Graham Birkett, from Riby (just outside Caistor), who loathes the idea of being an inspiration or role model. Yet, through being unapologetically true to himself, taking every opportunity he finds of interest and passing on his knowledge to the students he teaches, leads by example and encourages others to create their own journey.
Over the next five weeks, as part of the Activity Alliance campaign, #WhoSays, we will be introducing you to Lincolnshire locals who challenge the misconceptions and presumptions of having a disability and what is and isn’t possible in sport and physical activity.
Graham was paralysed after a car accident in 1993, but from birth he had scoliosis of the spine and used to walk with a limp. “When I was young I used to do a little bit of sport. I played a little bit of football and cricket. Before I broke my back I walked like I had a stone in my shoe, so although it shouldn’t have stopped me, knowing what I know now, it did, psychologically I suppose.”
When Graham broke his back, he reset his perspective on being physically active. Reflecting on his childhood he says “I wasn’t very sporty before I broke my back and I think that is because my parents weren’t as aware as I am now, or didn’t have the time. But then when you’ve broken your back you are properly disabled, aren’t you? It changed how I viewed myself and my desire to participate”
In 1994, a year after the crash, Graham met Ian Brown, from Active Lincolnshire, who encouraged him to have a go at wheelchair basketball. He began to play for Lincoln but before long he had excelled in the sport and was travelling across the country. “I played for a team in Sheffield, we went on a few away trips. I played in Glasgow, I went all over the country playing. But I didn’t see much of the places I was travelling to, besides the inside of a sports hall.” Graham realised that if we was going to use sport as an opportunity to travel, then he wanted to see more of the places he was travelling to, and so he turned his attention to water-skiing, and he loved it.
“I loved the atmosphere of it, being outside. I got into the tournament side of things and did fairly well, I went all over the world water-skiing, I even lived in Australia for a short while. Between that I did athletics and I was national champion in the first year. I did javelin, shotput, discus, 300m and 1500m on the track, but I was shocking on the track. I was British champion in shotput and javelin.
Now I do sidecar racing at national level, I also shoot and do a bit of quad biking.”
This is all in his spare time, as Graham also tutors design and technology and physical education at St Francis School, giving students with differing levels of physical and mental disabilities the tools to be successful in life. Graham doesn’t believe in just teaching the students to make “bird boxes” but prefers to give them handy skills to enable them to build a future for themselves.
“Because they are children with additional needs, aged 16 to 19, we do things more based around work, we do projects repairing things around school. On Tuesday I do sport all day, the ability of the students varies significantly so every lesson is tailored to their needs.”
Graham believes there needs to be more education around physical activity and disability: “Every lesson, every opportunity I get I try to get them into sport, I think it is really important for them. Especially now because a lot of kids do spend so much time on their consoles and in front of screens and they should be out there doing sport. There is no reason that they can’t, at all. But it is the lack of education, hopefully this Who Says campaign will reach those children and their parents.”
#Whosays? Is an Activity Alliance campaign that gives positive evidence that replaces the negative views that exist around disability and physical activity: “For far too long disabled people have faced misconceptions and presumptions on what is and isn’t possible, including in sport. Leading national charity, Activity Alliance, wants to move the conversations on, open people’s minds and shift out-dated views on disability.”
We believe that Graham not only challenges these preconceptions but smashes the glass ceiling on what is and isn’t possible and available.
If you are interested in finding out more about disability sports (especially wheelchair basketball) please click here. If you would like to know more about Activity Alliance and the #WhoSays campaign please click here and if you have a great story to share please contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.