Dedicating all his spare hours working with disabled athletes has earned an Edge Hill University Sports Development student recognition from the Prime Minister.
As a talented gymnast, footballer and all-round sportsman, Keegan Shard has always shown a keen commitment to sport. But it’s his voluntary coaching of disabled sportspeople that has earned him the respect and an award from 10 Downing Street.
“I have a sister and two brothers; my older brother has disabilities and my younger brother is sight-impaired, so I’ve grown up with an understanding of disability and what can be achieved,” said Keegan.
“Coaching learning-disabled athletes is very rewarding. You can take someone who has real trouble concentrating or who has severe behavioural problems, and a couple of years later they are running out onto the pitch at the Special Olympics – it’s amazing. You can see how much it means to them, how far they’ve come, and that is a great feeling.”
The award from David Cameron was in recognition of Keegan’s work as a Great Britain Ambassador with The Rix Centre, a charitable research and development organisation that works with the learning disability community.
His involvement saw him supporting abled and non-able bodied athletes during the London Olympic Games 2012, encouraging integration and sharing skills.
The 21-year-old from Runcorn who is in his final year at Edge Hill University explained: “Going to countries and understanding their different cultures was the most challenging part. But it was a fantastic experience and so rewarding both personally and also for being able to watch the progress of the athletes. To be acknowledged by the Prime Minister for my work was such a huge compliment and it’s nice to be recognised for something that I believe in.”
As a child, Keegan was national junior gymnastics champion and a member of the GB team until he was 13. As well as gymnastics he also had another sporting passion, football. He was soon spotted by Chester City FC and began playing for the club on a regular basis.
Through his father’s connections with Special Olympics Halton, Keegan became interested in Unified Football, a 7-a-side game that allows disabled and able-bodied footballers to play together. As captain and coach of the GB team, he helped his national side win silver at the 2010 Special Olympics Unified Football tournament in Istanbul.
Together the family run the Valiant Sports Club, which provides opportunities for disabled people to get involved in sport. Keegan and his siblings are volunteer coaches in several sports from gymnastics to indoor bowls and have taken many athletes to the Special Olympics World Games and several other international championships.