Natalia Equihua  attends the taster sessions of the High Flyers programme, which aims to increase participation in disability sport.

After watching eleven athletes win medals at the Paralympic Games in London this summer, Scottish sport is now aiming to increase the number of professional athletes with disabilities in the country by focusing on developing skills from childhood.

This is why Edinburgh Leisure has introduced the High Flyers programme, which encourages any child with a disability to participate in sport, with a focus on gymnastics, athletics, and tennis.

As part of the programme’s official launch, parents were invited to take their children to taster sessions last weekend.

It is a reality that few people know which sports are accessible to disabled athletes in Edinburgh, an issue that this programme sets out to solve.

One of the attendees, ten year-old Ruairi Logan, has been paralysed from the waist down from birth. However, participation in a wide range of sports has always provided him with a great source of enjoyment.

“He’s done swimming with me, later he did wheelchair basketball, and recently he started with tennis. He has quite a positive competitive nature,” says Ruairi’s father, Malcolm. “Eventually Ruairi will find what he enjoys doing the most.”

Heather Williams, Edinburgh Leisure Disability Sport Coordinator, was excited to introduce the new initiative, which the city has always been keen on implementing. Now, following the success of Team GB at the Paralympics, the idea has finally been put in place.

“This programme is something that Edinburgh Leisure had always wanted to do,” Williams commented. “We were excited to hear in April of last year that Edinburgh Council was releasing the funding.”

High Flyers aims to create more disability sports facilities, where talented athletes can begin their development with the backing of qualified sports coaches, and later continue developing their skills at clubs which focus on a specific sport.

“We want the sessions that we’ve set up to initially be sports activities provided by Edinburgh Leisure,” Williams explained. “But we also want to give them enough support so they can go on and become independent clubs in the future.”

Edinburgh Leisure will not limit the sports offered to gymnastics, athletics, and tennis. In fact, over the next few months they will carry out a survey to assess what their members want and what the programme should offer. In the wake of these findings, Williams expects that new activities can be offered during 2013 according to demand.

Six year-old Daniel Butler came to the event together with his mother. He was really excited to try the javelin sessions, where the main goal was to start developing the basic ability of throwing an object. Watching coaches were impressed as the skill came naturally to him after just a few attempts.

When asked whether Daniel would take his love for sports to a professional level in the future, his mother Jane said he would continue at a competitive level for as long as his rare heart defect allows him to do so. For now, she is glad that he can enjoy choosing from a range of activities that keep him both active and happy.

This programme has the objective to go from ‘grass root to podium’, but at the same time offers several other benefits for the children who sign up. Williams says that sport is beneficial to anyone who participates, but is especially important to the lives of disabled children and their parents.

“The social aspect – to work as part of a team, and achieve something – is massive in terms of how it impacts these children mentally, socially, and physically,” she explains. “For the parents it’s great to see their kids do something that they’re enjoying, and having that confidence, because aside from making these activities accessible, we want to give these kids self-belief.”

By Natalia Equihua

The Student