Leeds paralympian sets up charity helping people with disabilities try extreme sports

Jane Sowerby.
Jane Sowerby.
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Former Paralympian Jane Sowerby has set up a charity helping people with disabilities try extreme sports. Catherine Scott reports

Jane Sowerby admits he she has always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie and now she is passing on her love of extreme sports to others.

Jane, from Guiseley, represented Great Britain in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympics after she discovered the sport of sit skiing which changed her life. Jane was paralysed from the waist down after falling 13ft down some stairs at a friend’s house in London in 2003.

“In some ways I was quite lucky, I could have landed on my head and then it would all have been over for me.” Jane doesn’t remember much about the accident, just waking up in hospital with her mother who had travelled from Yorkshire to be with her.

The doctor broke the news that she would never walk again to her quite quickly.

“It didn’t feel like he was talking to me; it felt like it was happening to someone else. I then I felt like my life was over.” After being treated at Stoke Mandeville for three months, Jane had to adapt to life in a wheelchair. “There were some very difficult times,” she admits.

“I was completely paralysed from the waist down and thought I’d never be able to partake in extreme sports; I was desperate to find some kind of adrenaline rush again. Then, just over a year after my injury, I went on an adaptive ski camp; it was my saviour. There’s an incredible sense of freedom that comes from disabled skiing. The feeling of leaving your wheelchair behind and hitting the slopes is indescribable.”

It is this experience which Jane says has given her back her zest for life.

“It made me realise that there was still so much that I could do with my life.”

It is this feeling that she wants to instil in other people with disabilities with Access Adventure.

“With an increase in adaptive sports there isn’t anything that a person with disabilities can’t do these days, which is fantastic” says Jane.

The main problem for people is getting access to these sports, being confident that they will have the right support and facilities for them. That is where we come in.”

Jane has teamed up with Tim Farr, who also was part of the British Disabled Ski Team representing Great Britain at the Winter Paralympics in Vancouver 2010, know what a positive effect sport can have on people with disabilities.

The third member of the Access Adventure team is their long-standing friend Clare Williams – a physiotherapist, currently working with injured military personnel at Headley Court – the three have established a charity which organises adaptive adventure camps.

Jane, Tim and Clare saw that there was a gap in the market for adaptive adventure camps, and more importantly, a real need to provide and expand the kind of adaptive sports available for disabled people. So, Access Adventures was born.

Since the charity was launched earlier this year they have run weekend waterskiing, landsailing and kayaking camps and from next April they are organising scuba diving camps.

The Charity Commission has just awarded Access Adventures charitable status after recognising the significant service the organisation can provide to those with a recent or long-standing physical disability. One recent project that had a big impact on her was out in Malawi, where she trained several people so they can deliver vital healthcare education and wheelchair skills, to people with spinal injuries.

“Tim and I have first-hand experience of the huge benefit our camps will have to people with physical disabilities and Clare’s extensive experience working in disability rehab will provide a fantastic asset to the charity,” says Jane.

“I know personally how being involved in adaptive adventure sports can turn your life around and it’s been incredible to witness the same effect on others at our camps this summer.

“Life with a disability can be very daunting and the psychological benefit following involvement in sports cannot be underestimated. It improves confidence and helps everyday challenges seem more manageable.”

However Jane pointed out that adaptive sports are far more expensive than their able-bodied equivalent, due to the extra equipment and more tailored instruction required.

“We just cover our costs at the moment but it does mean that some people with disabilities just can’t afford to access some of the sports, and the fantastic benefits they bring,” she continues.

“Now that the Charity Commission has officially recognised the benefits of Access Adventures, we can begin fundraising to subsidise these costs with the ultimate goal to make the camps accessible for all. “

Next year will see a range of camps provided by Access Adventures including scuba diving and kite surfing.

Since skiing is where Jane and Tim’s passion for adaptive sport began, a ski camp is also definitely on the cards in the not too distant future.

Jane began skiing in 2005, before embarking upon a Paralympic ski-racing career which saw her scoop several medals and join Team GB for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In 2012 she took the hard decision to retire from competitive skiing to become a coach, which she still does, alongside her new passion Access Adventure.

“You cannot overestimate the positive benefits to people from being able to do things they thought they would no longer be able to do,” says Jane. We are very excited about Access Adventure and the future.”

For more on on her charity Access Adventures visit www.accessadventures.co.uk

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