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  • Writer's pictureNick

Sport Parkinson’s Summer Try-Athlon - a day to remember!

This July Fighting Fit Football were privileged to attend Sport Parkinson’s Summer Try-Athlon - a multi-sport and activity event for the whole Parkinson’s community hosted at Sixways Stadium in Worcester.

People with Parkinson’s and their friends, family and loved ones gathered from across the UK to take part in and learn about a diverse range of sports and activities - from football, touch rugby, walking football, netball, hockey, boxing and fitness classes through to art, poetry, music, wellness and mindfulness classes. We were there to compete in the inaugural 7 a-side Sport Parkinson's Cup, and along with the other teams had set our hopes on winning some silverware. But most of all we were there to enjoy the day and also represent and feel part of the Parkinson's community - to encourage exercise, challenge perceptions and spread positivity.

The purpose of the Summer Try-Athlon is to encourage people with Parkinson's to "find your way to play". And with exercise recognised as one of the main ways of combating the symptoms of Parkinson's, and the effects of the pandemic still being felt by so many, there had never been a better time to encourage participation in exercise as well as help mental wellbeing. Loneliness, anxiety, apathy and depression are common, but often overlooked, symptoms of Parkinson's. Sadly the Parkinson's community has been particularly hit hard by Covid and so the Summer Try-Athlon was the perfect opportunity to help address this.

And boy did it do that! Positivity, ability and community were the main themes of the day. It started with an on stage warm up to get everyone ready for their day, in particular the footballers who had gathered to compete for the Sports Parkinson's Cup. Eight teams had come together to compete in 2 groups, with the top two teams from each competing in the semi-finals, leading to a final to challenge for the trophy.

YOPD, Shaketar Dontask, Parkysaurus FC and Dopamine Deficient Dribblers were drawn into Group 1 and Fighting Fit Football, Northern Lights, Cadwyr Cymru, and PD Warriors teams in Group 2. Some of the teams were formed especially for the event and others including the Cadwyr Cymru, Northern Lights and Fighting Fit Football had been in training for a while, so it was widely felt that this second group included some of the pre-tournament favourites and would be very tight. Group 2 was promptly nicknamed the “Group of Death”, with Group 1 being called the Group of Life! And so it proved to be...the Group of Death games were low scoring with few chances created, and 1-0s and 0-0s were the order of the day, whereas the Group of Life certainly lived up to its name with higher scoring matches.

Our first match, against Merseyside's Northern Lights team, was a competitive but tentative match. Few chances were created and both teams defended well, resulting in a 0-0 scoreline. Prior to this Wales' Cadwyr Cymru had beaten PD Warriors 1-0 and so Cadwyr Cymru already had the upper hand in the table. We were aware of this and made the decision to swap to a more defensive 3-2-1 formation to ensure the game wasn't lost. Cadwyr Cymru played very well but again we defended resolutely and I even landed up man marking the excellent Garen Williams for the final few minutes as he was providing the greatest threat. Despite chances at both ends the game ended 0-0, which meant we had to go for broke in our final game against Bristol's PD Warriors, who had lost 1-0 to Northern Lights.

"We may have competed as 8 separate teams but in truth we were one team united in the same goal".

A single goal was all that was needed to stand a strong chance of progressing and so we swapped back to our familiar 2-3-1 formation and pressed the game at PD Warriors. This was our best performance and we pushed them back in their own half and created chances, but were equally fortunate not to concede with a breakaway attack in the final minutes. PD Warriors lived up to their name and stood strong with neither side managing to score. Disappointingly for us another 0-0.

Fighting Fit Football: 3 games, 3 clean sheets, 3 points, undefeated. Proud of our performance. But unlike Denmark in the Euros, it wasn't enough to get through to the semis.

This meant the last game from the Group of Death was ironically a dead rubber - as both Cadwyr Cymru and Northern Lights had qualified and played out to find out who would win the group. Another 0-0 ensued, with a sudden death (no joke!) penalty shoot out resulting in victory for the Welsh team as winners of the group.

In the the other group Parkysaurus (who included Charlie Appleyard, who has played for the UK Parkinson’s team at the Ray Kennedy Cup in Copenhagen in 2019, along with Garen Williams) and Shaketar Dontask progressed to the semis – the latter on goal difference from Dopamine Deficient Dribblers.

In the end it was the Group of Death who produced the 2 finalists after closely fought semis. Northern Lights and Cadwyr Cymru met for the second time and competed for the trophy in the final and almost predictably it was a tightly fought game. Despite the excellent John Roche hitting the woodwork with a 15 yard drive it ended 0-0 even after extra time. Penalties were needed to separate the two teams, and after 2 penalty conversions from both sides the Northern Lights keeper - who had been excellent throughout the day but had told me earlier that he hadn't really wanted to play in goal (!) - made a vital save and the Lights ran out the the deserved winners of the Sport Parkinson's Cup.

Later in the afternoon many of the players joined forces to compete in a series of walking football matches, with 4 teams split between players in a “north” vs “south” friendly contest organised by the Walking Football Association (WFA). Stuart Langworthy, England manager for the men’s over 60’s team, and WFA physio Paul Nicholls are both committed to promoting walking football as a perfect team sport for people with Parkinson’s using the motto “fun, friendship and fitness”. Compared to the 7 a-side games, the walking football afforded players with more time and space on ball as teams tried to stretch play rather than remain compact. Contact tackling isn’t permitted either which means players can feel assured of their safety. Goals were also more freely flowing with Fighting Fit’s Les Darvill scoring 3 goals. And to round things off, Stuart and Paul presented each player with a trophy and booklet as a memento of their day, a most thoughtful touch!

There are so many memorable moments from the day - from competing in our first competitive football tournament, to meeting so many wonderful and inspirational people - including the winning Northern Lights team who are shining lights (no pun intended) in the Parkinson's community in the North West and, like Fighting Fit Football, offer people with Parkinson's social and sporting opportunities to enjoy a happy and fulfilled life. John Roche and James Clark who founded the group embody the spirit of the Summer Try-Athlon and so for me the victory for Northern Lights couldn't be any more deserving. We may have competed as 8 separate teams but in truth we were one team united in the same goal.

2021 Sport Parkinson’s Cup winners Northern Lights!

For me the lasting memory of the event will always be the warmth, positivity and commitment of the Parkinson's community coming together as one, and the sense of belonging and identity this generated. Seeing so many people together living with the condition in such a positive way was the perfect antidote to our symptoms. Better than any medication and without any unwanted side effects too!

Here’s to next year's event!

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