As Piglet says life is an adventure, and this trip was certainly one to remember, definitely a full-on adventure.  From the highs of coming 4th individually in the first-ever BISFed European boccia women’s competition, to the lows of coming 4th in the newly configured mixed pair event.  But the trip was about so much more than boccia, it called for a unique teamwork experience.

Beth Moulam BC3 boccia athlete wearing blue coat and yellow glasses lines up the ramp whilst Ramp Operator Christie Hutchings wearing multi-coloured shirt moves the ramp under directionIndividual success

You will know from previous blogs of the changes within boccia, previously a mixed-gender sport.  I set out for Seville with great excitement, eager to play on an all-female stage in the individual competition. My aim was to gain experience and hopefully win some matches. Getting into the semi-finals was more than I could have dreamed about.  I might have finished 4th but throughout I was competing against much more experienced elite athletes. Whilst I lost both the semi-final and the play-off 4-3 I learned a lot, and not just about boccia. My thanks go to Christie as my unflappable and ever professional assistant.

BC3 pair performance

Since joining the World Class Programme my role had been to facilitate the males to compete in the pairs. To do this I have been on court for one end in each round.  This means I have focused on playing just 3 balls in each match.  Oh, and the jack if relevant in the first end when we were red.  This was my first full match in the pair when the new rules did not allow me to be substituted off.

On day one we had two matches to get into the knockout stages.  We lost the first match, mainly for reasons I’ll come on to shortly, but we pulled back well to win our group in the second match.  Then we lost the semi-final 4-2 to Greece, the Paralympic bronze medallists.  In the play-off, Spain nudged ahead in the last end to win 5-3.  As a result, we didn’t get automatic qualification to the Worlds in Rio in 2022. And, I fully share this disappointment with my teammates.

Beth Moulam BC3 boccia athlete wearing GB sports kit preparing to take shot. Ramp assistant with competitor number on back, under direction places the ball on the ramp ready for Beth to release.Unexpected changes

Coming so soon on the heels of the Paralympics there was limited pairs training and practice before this event.  Without doubt, there were some further hurdles to overcome during the pairs competition. This included my trusty PA falling ill and the squad having to take over to provide essential support.  I needed help doing everything, from feeding to someone new being my Ramp Operator. For anyone, it is not easy to work with someone you don’t know. Then for that person to not understand my speech made things even more tricky. Performing on-court with an assistant is about so much more than boccia.

The role of the Ramp Operator

One of my earlier blogs spoke about the role of a ramp operator.  This essential on-court support was called a sports assistant until 2 weeks ago when the role was renamed.  In short, their role is to move the ramp under direction without looking into the field of play. To place the ball on the ramp when asked and not to communicate verbally or non-verbally.  Whilst it is undoubtedly a skilled role, as they need to be effective and efficient, teamwork is crucial.  Christie as my on-court assistant reads my communication intuitively.  The key to the role is in the title ‘operator’ as the decision-making, tactics, and strategy come from the athlete.

Stepping up

The sudden need to have a host of different people provide my essential support called for flexibility and resilience on the part of everyone.  The biggest challenge has to have been around communication in every part of what needed to happen. There are valuable lessons to ponder over, in the sense of, how do I prepare for that? What can I do differently? Could it be as simple as programming my communication aid? Or is there something more? Already I am making plans to get more pre-programmed stuff onto my communication aid.

Communication and training challenges

Training new staff at home is done over several shifts/weeks, and not on the spur of the moment.  Having a newbie start is hard work, it requires patience, clarity of voice if I’m not tired, then time to programme if I am.  I find the intensity of the input needed exhausting even when I’m ‘just’ at home.  On top of the rigours of competing and being tired I then had to deal with unknown personal assistance.  This has reinforced that I need to have some simple programming on my AAC device as a minimum to explain:

  • Putting my hearing aids back together after the moulds were left to dry out following washing.
  • How small to chop my food, how much food to put on the spoon, how to position the spoon.
  • Where on my mount the communication aid and stylus go.
  • How to help me transfer without risking my previously damaged wrists.

All of these are things that meet my basic essential needs, but I’m not having a dig, they did a great job! The whole staff team had to dig deep, they know who they are, and I am grateful to them.

Event challenges

On top of all this, there were other challenges for the whole squad.  The whole trip was about so much more than boccia.  Due to reduced flights, we couldn’t fly direct to Seville on the days needed. As a consequence, we had a late-night arrival and long transfers by road.  The weather in Seville was unexpectedly cold and we were not prepared for an unheated and freezing venue.  Daytime temperatures should have been around 20 degrees and were around 8 degrees lower.  The hotel was not accessible, with some creativity the best we could manage was showering sat in a bath on a small stool.  Definitely a health and safety nightmare for transfers! On top of this many people came down with bugs or food poisoning.  Finally, going home we had to re-order Covid tests as our planned lateral flow test was usurped by isolation and a 2 day PCR test.

Beth Moulam BC3 boccia athlete with Christie Hutchings ramp operator at the BISFed European Championships 2021. Beth is wearing a blue jacket and Christe GB kit and a clear face mask for lip reading.Life is always an adventure

Not only did I embrace the adventure I expected with the new format boccia competitions.  I had a second adventure, dealing with the unforeseen and when faced with adversity making things work.  And, without doubt, the UK Boccia support team all had an unexpected adventure too (although I’m not sure they would call it that!).

As I look forward to the next task in hand, I just need to remember, life is always an adventure.  And, I have done a good enough job, both as a boccia athlete and as an individual in life.

Results and ranking information can be found through World Boccia

Further information on boccia from UK Boccia Federation and Boccia England