Para athlete Chris Patton shares his experience of visiting Australia for the Commonwealth Games.
Selected to represent South Africa in lawn bowls at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, was a huge honour and privilege. The whole experience was phenomenal from start to finish. At times, as a middle-aged man with a family, a job and an everyday life, I found it just a little surreal.
I bowled very well at times and poorly at others, but, throughout, I tried my best, even though local conditions made it a bit tricky. Leaving the Gold Coast with a medal made everything a little sweeter.
My biggest concern before leaving South Africa was whether the athletes’ village, where we would stay for three weeks, would meet my accessibility requirements as a paraplegic. In the end, I needn’t have worried. Australia has an excellent accessibility reputation. Team SA only had two wheelchair users. We were allocated separate four-person flats, which we shared with three other teammates or colleagues. The universal accessible (UA) ablutions were fantastic for both me and my three other more able roommates. There were public UA toilets, both permanent and temporary, everywhere I went, which included the airports, the athletes’ village, the Broadbeach Bowls Club, the athletics’ stadium and a local mall.
The buses that transported the 5 000 athletes between airport, village and venue had drop-down access ramps
or built-in lift platforms. Onboard there were fold-up seats with support rails to accommodate any wheelchair users. Lifts were available in every multi-storey building I visited.
There was even a wheelchair and prosthesis depot in the village to cater for any mechanical problems. I visited it once simply to see what they offered and ended putting air into my tyres just to keep them occupied!
To pay kudos to South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), their support team, with fellow wheelchair user Leon Fleiser in the mix were always on hand. The medical and physiotherapist teams were available when we needed them for treatment, massages and appropriate medication.
At the bowls club, strong and durable temporary ramps had been constructed to get wheelchairs and polishing machines on and off the green. During our medal ceremony, a specially designed wooden ramp was produced for my benefit. There were in fact three wheelchair bowlers taking part in the open para trips event, but I was the only one who bowled from a wheelchair. The other two were amputees, who used their chair to move up and down the green to limit the pressure and chaffing on their stumps.
One of the real highlights of the Games for me was interacting with all the other athletes from various sports with disabilities from participating countries. It is always good to share experiences and make new friends.
The accessibility experience throughout our time in the Gold Coast was fantastic. The Australian volunteers (called Games Shapers) were all beautiful people and wonderful hosts (with quite a few South Africans expats in their midst), and a credit to their country.