When Fay Hart was introduced to the Paralympic sport boccia (pronounced ‘bot-cha’) at school, she wasn’t particularly taken with it. It was only after she had moved out of her family home and into her own Hurst Green flat in 2016 that she decided joining her local boccia club would be a good way to get out and meet people. Little did she know it would soon become much more than a hobby.
Specifically designed for athletes with disabilities affecting their locomotor functions, boccia – which is similar to bowls – is played from a seated position, making it an ideal sport for Fay, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Games take place on an indoor court, and players are divided into four classifications, depending on their disability and functional ability. Competitors, either individually or in teams, take turns throwing, kicking or using a ramp to aim their six red or blue leather balls at the white jack ball. Once all the balls have been used, points are awarded to one player or team for every ball nearer to the jack than their opponent’s closest ball.
“When I started I found it difficult as I couldn’t even throw the ball, and without my first coach Katie Gatt I don’t think I would have even got past the starting point,” says Fay. “However, I was determined to succeed, working really hard for years and finally reaching a level where I could compete.”
Selected by charity Boccia England for their Talent Pathway, through which it finds and develops future Paralympic athletes, Fay trains under the guidance of experienced coach Barry Bowden.
“He is helping me become the best I can be. We work really well together, and we have a laugh too.”
After winning bronze and silver medals at the recent Boccia England Cup Qualifiers, she has now been picked to represent them at the Para Sport Festival in Swansea in July. Her long-term goal, however, is to become part of the ParalympicsGB boccia team.
“Boccia England has said I have the potential. They’ve given me a plan of what I need to do to get there, but sport is expensive. Even more so when you have a disability.”
As well as her boccia kit, Fay regularly competes across the UK, and has to pay for travel, accommodation in hotels with disabled facilities, and a support worker to accompany her. The cost of living crisis has also threatened to limit her progress:
“If I have to choose between turning the heating on or doing the sport I love, then obviously the heating wins.”
Fay says she has been fortunate to receive several grants in the past, and her recently established Go Fund Me page will help her with some costs, but she is now looking for a long-term sponsor:
“Having that financial support would be perfect. I would be able to focus on my goal of reaching the ParalympicsGB boccia squad, instead of worrying about whether I can afford to do it. I’d love to find somebody who will come on that journey with me.”