Scott and Jamie McCowan have been playing boccia at national and international level for more than a decade.
Had the brothers not been offered the opportunity to participate in sport, and given the support and encouragement to progress, they acknowledge that life could have been more challenging and less fulfilling.
Scott and Jamie have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and not only do their parents, Gary and Linda, provide round-the-clock care, they also perform the role of ramp assistants in the boccia arena.
Competing at the highest level
The brothers are supported by the sportscotland institute of sport, who work with the lead practitioners from Boccia UK to provide integrated physiotherapy, performance nutrition, physical preparation and Performance Lifestyle services.
In 2016, all four members of the McCowan family represented ParalympicsGB in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the following year, much closer to home, there was another landmark moment to cherish.
Twenty-five miles from the family’s home in Dundonald, South Ayrshire, the sportscotland National Sports Training Centre Inverclyde re-opened after a £12million refurbishment. The McCowans soon discovered that the new Inverclyde was no ordinary sports centre.
Accessible all areas
When Scott and Jamie attend residential camps with their Boccia UK team-mates, they benefit from a unique array of accessible facilities. Every bedroom in the centre can accommodate two wheelchair users, making it the first of its kind in the UK. The ceiling hoist in their bedroom saves Linda “half an hour every morning”, giving the athletes more time to train, work out, eat and recover – all essential components of the average day in this high-performance environment.
“When you see Scott and Jamie compared to other boys the same age and with the same condition, they’re just so healthy,” says Gary McCowan.
“That’s due to the funding we get and the support we get and it’s also because, mentally, they’ve got something to focus on.”
Linda adds: “The outlook is that the older they get, the condition will make them deteriorate, but by doing this we have saved a lot of that from happening. We know that not everyone has that support and how that impacts on people.”
Tokyo on the horizon
Jamie, 23, was ranked No.3 in the world in the BC3 classification in early 2018. He and Scott, 26, are likely to be vying with another Scottish player, Patrick Wilson, for two male places in their category at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Barry Fleeting, Inverclyde head of centre, says: “When Boccia UK come to Inverclyde for a training camp, the players can expect inclusive accommodation which is unique across the UK.
"The centre provides for all of the needs of the athletes under one roof.
“For them it’s a really unique experience where they can get the very best out of their training and preparation.”
Playing their part in an integrated sporting system is not a new experience for the McCowans.
As a teenager Jamie set up an ‘inclusion squad’ in his school in South Ayrshire to enable all pupils to take part in PE, a concept that has since been rolled out in all schools across the area.
The McCowans had an interest in sport from an early age but they were introduced to boccia when they attended a come-and-try event in Ayrshire and met Claire Morrison, now Boccia UK’s national coach.
Claire says: “The first time I met them I was working for Scottish Disability Sport, delivering some boccia sessions at the Ayrshire Special Games, and I said to Scott in particular that he should get involved, that it would be a good sport for him.
“The following year, both Scott and Jamie were there and so I nagged them a little bit and said that we were having an open day with the Scotland squad, and sold them on what the sport is. They came along, started to appreciate the sport a bit more and understand that they could play it, and they’ve not looked back since.”
The future for the brothers is uncertain, because of the nature of their condition, but they have already crammed as many sporting adventures into a decade as many athletes experience in an entire career.
Jamie says: “Our parents provide so much support. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible for us.
"To do it as a family is really special – not many people can say they get to compete not only with their brother but their mum and dad, and they are very much as competitive as we are.
“Ten years later we are still going strong, and it really is an amazing thing to be part of.”
Find out more
About disability sport and boccia
About sportscotland National Centre Inverclyde
- Playing Our Part: summary of progress is sportscotland's annual report 2017-18
- Check out the other two case studies featured on Sport First:
- Visit the Playing Our Part home page to explore the data that illustrates our progress in the period April 2017 to March 2018
- This report covers the third year of the 2015-19 corporate plan: Raising The Bar. It allows us to assess what progress we have made towards achieving our impact measures
- You can find also Playing Our Part alongside previous annual reports on the sportscotland website
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