'CP World Championships can inspire a generation'
The Cerebral Palsy World Championships has provided the perfect platform to raise awareness of disability sport, according to England CP star James Blackwell.
Blackwell, who was born with Cerebral Palsy and whose parents were told he may never walk, is currently with the Three Lions at St. George’s Park for the Championships.
So far England have played two matches and both have been in front of sell-out crowds.
More than 1,000 people have turned out to cheer them on – a significant number including children from local disability groups and schools who have been invited by the CPFWC 2015 Legacy Group.
And Blackwell says providing inspiration to the next generation is what the tournament is all about.
“There was never anything like that growing up for me.
“When I was growing up I was looking at fully mobile, able-bodied people and thinking that I want to be like them – and deep down perhaps knowing that I never could be.
“Now, for the children with a disability coming to the games or watching from afar who may have thought ‘I can’t do anything like that’ or ‘there’s nowhere for me to play’, this shows them that they can play, and hopefully gives them something to aspire to. You can’t put a price on that.”
Like the majority of the players from the 15 nations in residence at St. George’s Park, Blackwell’s story is remarkable.
Born with Cerebral Palsy – a condition that affects around one in every 500 babies worldwide – his initial prognosis was bleak.
As a baby his parents were warned he would never walk. As a toddler assessors from the local primary school tested him to see if he could put a shirt on.
When he managed to – albeit with one hand – he was told that he would not be allowed to attend his local primary school because of his condition.
His parents were left with no choice but to send him to a private school.
He returned to that primary school a few years later and quickly stood out as the best footballer in the school, playing three years above his age group.
However, never wanting to be viewed or treated differently to his peers, Blackwell chose to tell no-one about his Cerebral Palsy, something he continued to do into adulthood as well.
“I’ve always been like that, throughout my life,” he continued. “Any issues I’ve had, rightly or wrongly, I’ve always kept them to myself.
“I didn’t used to want to worry other people. I feel like I’m strong enough to support myself. I never wanted to rely on other people, or for them to feel pity towards me.”
So strong were his feelings about treating the condition with the contempt he felt it deserved, he even only recently told the person closest of all to him.
“My wife didn’t even know,” he revealed. “I’ve been with her nine years now and she only found out two years ago.
“Once I told her it was a sense of relief. She said it doesn’t change how you are to me or how I think about you.
“In hindsight I always knew that was how she would react, but I was always very aware that I didn’t want people to change how they were towards me. I’m still James Blackwell.
“There is a stigma around Cerebral Palsy and disability in general.
“But I feel proud now that there will be people realising that I had held my own and played mainstream football with a disability, and understand what I’ve gone through.”
So fast-forward several years to 2013, and after years of playing mainstream football, a chance encounter with another member of the England squad opened his eyes to a world he knew nothing about.
Now embracing the world of opportunity disability sport provides, he wants to play his part in the continued effort to eradicate the stigma – and help inspire the children of today into the England CP stars of tomorrow.
“It’s about getting the next generation involved.”
“That’s the main thing about this tournament,” he added. “It’s the awareness. Even in the last two years since I’ve been involved it’s come on leaps and bounds.
“You can see now with the County FA’s there’s a lot more promotional work designed to raise awareness.
“It’s about getting the next generation involved as well. If we can play a small part in helping that process then it’s something we can all be very proud of.”
England take on Russia in the quarter final of the Cerebral Palsy World Championships at 4.30pm on Wednesday 24 June.
The match will be streamed live on TheFA.com
From The FA