Loughborough leading the way in para-sport
The profile of disability sport at Loughborough University has increased significantly in a short space of time, but there remain plenty of exciting ventures to continuously improve the offer for all associated with the institution.
That’s the view of the university’s Head of Para Sport, Nik Diaper, whose appointment in February 2019 signalled Loughborough’s intent to establish itself as the pre-eminent university for para and disability sport globally.
While hoping to improve on Loughborough-based athletes’ contribution of ten golds, eight silvers and four bronze medals at the 2016 Paralympics next summer in Tokyo, Loughborough’s vision - officially launched in December - centres on creating life-shaping opportunities for people of all abilities.
And since assuming his new role in June, Diaper has been encouraged by the strides made in all aspects of disability sport provided at the university, including leading research, hosting elite athletes and facilitating increased participation at all levels.
“A lot of people associate Loughborough with elite sport, but maybe less on a para sport front,” he said. “The fact my role exists shows the university’s commitment to disability sport and a key theme is that we want to offer something for everyone.
“We know individuals with disabilities are at least two times less likely to participate in sport and physical activity, so whether we’re creating more opportunities for people to go down a Paralympics pathway, or simply helping people to engage in a fit and healthy lifestyle, both are important to us.
“Ultimately a university is a learning environment and we’re focused on conducting key research into health and well-being across a broad spectrum of para and disability aspects - whether that’s medicine, social aspects or whatever.
“We’re also trying to engage as many students as we can in a variety of events we host at different levels, for example participating in the Inclusive Sports Festival which we hosted in December, or volunteering at some of the elite competitions that take place here.
“It’s great our world-class facilities mean we can host the top athletes, and I think being able to bump into a Sophie Hahn [sprinter] or a Hannah Moore [para-triathlete] can really help inspire other people to give different activities a go.
“Our preferred model is to integrate our para athletes with the non-disabled programme, but one of our over-riding themes is to understand the specific needs of every individual and cater for them appropriately.”
Loughborough University’s Inclusive Sports Festival saw a range of sports activity providers, including Leicester City Football Club, come together to provide students and staff with a unique opportunity to try a range of new sports in a friendly and welcoming environment.
Alongside Leicester were Charnwood Active, Leicestershire County Cricket Club, Leicestershire & Rutland Sport, Activity Alliance, Boccia England, Volleyball England and Fusion Lifestyle clubs all in attendance.
Despite earmarking the positive strides that have been made to increasingly champion para sport at Loughborough, Diaper is keen to stress there are still improvements to be made, particularly with regard to disability sport at grassroots level.
And with Tokyo 2020 now firmly on the horizon, he is looking forward to seeing Loughborough contribute to increasing para sport opportunities at all levels going forward.
He said: “I think what we’ve achieved in six months is great and if a student comes to Loughborough as an elite para athlete, we know we’ve already got some good opportunities in place.
“While we’ve made some progress, I think where we - and the whole higher education sector - can do better is by providing more opportunities for anyone with any disability to engage with physical activity at any level, and that’s what we’ll continue to work on going forward.
“We’ve got a lot of people, athletes and staff, involved in this year’s Paralympics which is incredibly exciting and I’m looking forward to supporting the team and further improving all of the aspects of the disability sport offer we provide.”