In May, we were privileged to welcome back Andy Barrow, Paralympian & Inspirational Speaker to Tanglin's Infant School.
In 1997, Andy was playing for his local rugby club when he suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him paralysed from the chest down. Andy draws on his experience as a triple Paralympian, three-time European gold medallist and former captain of the Great Britain wheelchair rugby team, to inspire and motivate his audience.
He now uses his story to illustrate the importance of a positive attitude and strong work ethic as well as teaching techniques to help young people overcome challenges.
On this visit, Andy demonstrated life in a wheelchair to Reception children and introduced Year 1 and 2 children to diversity. His "Superheroes" session for Year 1s asked the children to think about what makes them and their peers different. They then reframed those differences and talked about them as "superpowers", encouraging them to look at differences in a positive way.
Andy's "Adaptive Sports Carousel" let Year 2 children try out several fun activities where they experience what it's like to use their bodies differently or to not rely on a certain sense. Many of these activities were simplified versions of full Paralympic sports and the restrictions they placed on the children allowed them to empathise with people who have disabilities while still being active and having fun. Savanna, Year 2 said: "The balloons activity was funtastic! Passing the ball using our arms was the hardest as we couldn't use our hands."
Here Andy tells us about his passion for motivating young people.
Tell us about a proud moment in your wheelchair rugby career?
My two proudest moments were captaining the Great British team at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and being part of a "home" Paralympics at London 2012.
How do you draw on your own beliefs and inspire young people to share these?
I believe that:
- Success is achieved through hard work and perseverance
- It is possible to triumph over adversity, and take positives from everything in life
- Everyone has the qualities they need to be the best they can be, but nothing will change unless you change it
- You should only do the things that make you happy, give 100% to whatever you do, and take opportunities as they arise.
The best way I can do this is by using my story and providing specific examples to children to illustrate why I hold those particular beliefs. Stories are a great way to teach as they help cement ideas, but inspiration is not enough for me. I want children to be inspired, but then go further and act to make positive changes, so I always try to provide actual takeaways that they can use to do this.
Your own story is of resilience and determination. How do you maintain a positive outlook?
When we talk about not giving up or staying positive, we're normally linking that to experiencing adversity or overcoming a challenge. I believe having perspective is vitally important when facing adversity. If we can just take a step back in these moments and ask ourselves simple questions like:
- How bad is this really in the grand scheme of things?
- What can I control in this situation?
- What small step/action can I take straight away to improve this? I find this can help us to see the positives.
Why do you feel it is important for young people to learn and understand disability?
Disability is part of the world we live in, but it doesn't need to be anything like the physical or social barrier that many people think it is.
Quite simply, it's not disability itself that restricts people, but rather the attitude of others towards it.
If you understand something, it no longer seems strange or threatening to you, so I feel it's hugely important to learn about complex things like disability from an early age. It's my job to devise ways of teaching this and talking about it at an age-appropriate level.
What do you most enjoy about working with young people?
I love the fact that young people are naturally curious and not afraid to ask the questions that they need or want to know the answers to. When we're discussing complex subjects like diversity, we need to be brave enough to ask difficult questions of one another in an open, respectful way.
Do you have a favourite workshop that you deliver?
I usually really enjoy delivering my "Fuel Your Passion" workshop. This is all about nutrition and educating young people about what's in the things they eat and drink. As well as this, our new "Adaptive Sports Carousel" has been great fun to deliver and has gone down well on this visit.
On Andy's visit, Paula Craigie, Head of Infant School said:
"The children were inspired by Andy's drive, motivation and resilience to succeed, no matter what life throws at you. He had an amazing ability to connect with the children whilst at the same time enabling them to embark on a short journey of mindfulness and transformation. Thank you to the TTS Foundation for supporting Andy's visit."