Atlantic Boccia Championships about more than sports

Para-athletes gather in St. John’s for inaugural Easter Seals event

Published on January 21, 2013
Abby Quigley prepares to toss her ball during the Atlantic Boccia Championships, held in St. John’s over the weekend.
— Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

For participants in this weekend’s Atlantic Boccia Championships, it wasn’t just about trying to defeat the competition and come out on the winning side.

“I think what’s important to keep in mind is, like my mom tells me, you’re playing for fun,” said Abby Quigley, 13, of St. John’s. “You’re not playing for competitive stuff. You’re only playing for fun. That’s basically what boccia and every sport is about.”

The inaugural Atlantic championship was hosted by Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador.

Athletes and coaches from Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were on hand for the two-day event, which got underway Saturday morning at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre in St. John’s.

The sport — described as a cross between curling and lawn bowling — is played indoors. The target strategy game requires players to get their own balls as close to a leather white ball (known as a jack ball) as possible.

Athletes are classed according to their level of functional ability for the event, according to Easter Seals N.L. director of programming Eileen Bartlett.

“You get physical activity, you get friendship, you get social (activity), and you belong to a group,” said Bartlett. “You learn from each other.”

A total of 31 athletes took part, with 20 from Newfoundland and Labrador. A wealth of volunteers were also on hand Saturday.

Abby first heard of boccia (pronounced similarly to “gotcha”) through her involvement with Easter Seals.

She practised every Thursday in preparation for the weekend event, and last year travelled for a tournament in Halifax.

“But this is more competitive,” she said, comparing the event in

St. John’s to the one in Halifax. “This is more real.”

Brandon Bowen, 7, was able to quickly develop an appreciation for boccia.

“It’s really cool, and it’s really awesome,” said Brandon. “I really enjoy it.”

Beyond boccia, Abby and Brandon enjoy playing wheelchair basketball through Easter Seals.

“I really enjoy basketball too, but I can’t reach the net,” said Brandon in a very matter-of-fact manner.

While Easter Seals N.L. took the lead role in organizing the event, help also came from the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sport Association. A national coach who recently took part in the London 2012 Paralympic Games was also present over the weekend to help out the athletes.

Along with boccia, Easter Seals N.L. is also involved in organizing other para-sporting opportunities, including sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball, and swimming.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew