Wednesday, 20 November 2013

37. Hockey

Event: Hockey
Date: 16th November 2013
Location: University of Essex
Cost: Free
Rules:  Hockey is a fast-paced team sport, with attackers, midfielders, defenders and a goalkeeper on each team. In a match, two teams of 11 players play for two 35 minute halves with ten minutes for half time. It is essential for players to control, pass, push, stop and hit the ball. Athletes can only play the ball with the flat face or edge of the stick and are not allowed to use their feet or any part of their body.

The Event:
University of Essex 1 - 0 Basildon

London 2012 Winners: Netherlands.

Sarah: We both felt pretty nervous before the match as it was an actual league game and we'd only been to one practice lesson a few weeks ago. My only other experience of hockey was at the start of secondary school, and the memories of mud-splattered, blotchy legs and numb hands weren't happy ones. Hockey was my Mum's sport when she was younger; she played on the Saxmundham mixed team, and was full of stories of how rough it was. After years of playing netball, I always thought I was an attack player, so I was a bit disappointed when I was put in Right Defence, but it actually felt a much better position for me to be playing. I really enjoyed getting stuck in to steal the ball back from the opponent, and try to get it forward for the team. There were a couple of tense moments around our goal, but we managed to keep the other team at bay and it felt amazing when we went 1-0 up!  Hockey has shot right up there to take the top spot as my favourite sport so far, and I'll definitely be looking to join a club once our Challenge is over.

Ellie: Today we played for the University of Essex Second team - and WON! The Seconds have trouble fielding a full team and this is the first win for them this season. Although the team were glad we were there to make up the numbers, the pressure I felt was enormous. This was an actual league match. Thankfully I'd been put in a position, top right (more traditionally known as Right Wing), that had little to do. That being said, I think I made one genuine contribution and the match was a really great education. From my position I was able to chat to the opposition (I was trying to mess with them psychologically!) and gain a good understanding of what the game is all about. I felt really encouraged that I wasn't ruining the teams chances and was so happy when we scored!

Sarah: The other team had a brilliant mascot!: 

Monday, 18 November 2013

36. Artistic Gymnastics - Uneven Bars

Event: Artistic Gymnastics - Uneven Bars
Date: 15th November 2013
Location: Colchester School of Gymnastics
Cost: Free
Rules:  The maximum width allowed between the bars is 180cm. Swinging and continuous movements are required on this apparatus, with the athlete moving between the bars. The routine should include movements in both directions, above and below the bars. Twists and somersaults with multi-grip changes and high flight should be demonstrated to maximise scores. The exercise usually ends with an impressive dismount.

The Event:
London 2012 Winner: Aliya Mustafina, Russia.

Sarah: This was my worst event of the night, it definitely doesn't lend itself to having awful upper-body strength! The bars are much further apart than I'd been expecting; I can't imagine throwing myself between them. I managed a few swings on the tall bar, some non-too graceful dismounts and an aborted attempt at a somersault on the lower bar. I was a bit distracted by the huge foam pit next to the bars, and much preferred playing practicing in that.  

Ellie: This was far and away my favourite of the three events that we've tried this evening; it was gleeful! It is a lot like being on a swing only you have to do all the work and once I got the momentum it became really enjoyable. I was really happy to be able to turn around on the tall bar and somersault over the top of the smaller one. We also got to try the dismount practice bar where you can spin gracefully in the air (!) and land in a giant pit of sponge! And we got to CHALK our hands like a real gymnast!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

35. Artistic Gymnastics - Vault

Event: Artistic Gymnastics - Vault
Date: 15th November 2013
Location: Colchester School of Gymnastics
Cost: Free
Rules:  The vault is 1.25m from the floor. Each vault is awarded a value according to its difficulty. Judges assess height, length and shape of the vault and the exactness of turns before and after the somersault, and a controlled landing within a marked area.

The Event:
London 2012 Winner: Sandra Izbasa, Romania. 

Sarah: If you were a child growing up in Essex in the 80s, it's pretty much guaranteed you would have visited Magic City in Clacton. It was a wonderful padded playground/obstacle course where you could throw yourself around and bounce off the walls. For me, gymnastics was a lot like that. Everywhere was springy, which was pretty great. As we bounced our way across the room, the vault loomed up and just got bigger and bigger. It's massive! We had a bit of a demo from some of the others and I knew I just had to go for it or I'd get too scared. You have to sprint full-speed on the run up, to get the momentum to bounce off the springboard and over the vault. We didn't quite manage to get the whole way over in one go, but got closer each time we had a try. The crash mats were stacked on top of a trampoline, which gave an extra springy dismount. I loved this one, and can definitely see how you'd gain in confidence and experience to improve.  

Ellie: The vault is about the size of a dinner table. It's huge. We asked some regulars to give us a demo and they were able to spring over it, performing somersaults which was really impressive! Regardless of the fact that we had to stop on the vault, it was so much fun and as Sarah says, I think you could get better quite quickly. It must be really satisfying to bounce straight over and on to the padded trampoline!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

34. Artistic Gymnastics - Balance Beam

Event: Artistic Gymnastics - Balance Beam
Date: 15th November 2013
Location: Colchester School of Gymnastics
Cost: Free
Rules:  The beam is 1.25m high, 5m long and only 10cm wide. The routine should be a maximum length of 90 seconds and show an artistic combination of leaps, jumps and turns, ending with the dismount. Athletes should use the entire length of the beam, demonstrating elegance, flexibility, rhythm, balance, confidence and control.  

The Event:

London 2012 Winner: Deng Linlin, China.

Sarah: I wasn't too excited at the thought of starting gymnastics; I picked up a few Baga awards in primary school, but that was my last experience of the sport until we took on the trampoline for the Challenge last year. I shouldn't have been nervous though, the club has a really relaxed atmosphere and everyone got on with their own thing; doing eye-watering somersaults, twists and tumbles. We had a practice on the lower training beam and got a bit cocky, thinking it was 'easy'. It turns out the proper beam was way more intimidating, and felt so much higher. It's even narrower than it looks, but we managed some dips, turns and impressive dismounts. 

Ellie: Nope - not for one moment did I think this was easy; even on the lower practice beam. It's so high up and so narrow! How the gymnasts are able to do anything other than wobble slowly along, occasionally looking as if they are about to fall off I have no idea - I imagine years of practice and natural skill would have a lot to do with it! That being said, the relaxed atmosphere at Colchester School of Gymnastics meant that there was zero pressure and I had the time to be slow and look clumsy. I managed to do a few dips and also turn and walk like a crab for a second or two. My 'routine' was probably as far from elegant as it's possible to get!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

33. BMX

Event: BMX
Date: 10th November 2013
Location: Platt Fields BMX Track, Manchester 
Cost: £12 each for one hour 
Rules:  BMX was first introduced into the Olympics in 2008. The competitions begin with a seeding phase where each rider runs the track once to determine the seedings, ensuring that the fastest riders don't meet before the final. The women progress straight to the semi-finals which have a three-run format. The top four riders in each progress to the final, where the winners are determined in one run. The women's track is 440m long and built with jumps, bumps and tightly banked corners.

The Event:

London 2012 Gold: 0.37.07s, Mariana Pajon, Columbia.  
Sarah: 1.25.50s
Ellie: 1.36.26s   

Sarah: We dragged three friends to Manchester for a weekend of cycling terror; both in the velodrome and on the BMX track. I quickly realised that I was going to have to throw myself in to the BMX before I had the chance to over-think it, get scared and wimp out. And it seemed to work! It took a little while to get used to the tiny bike, but standing on the pedals quickly became normal, and by the end of the hour we were tearing round the circuit. The slopes and jumps are incredibly steep and you have to pedal like mad on the downward slopes to get the momentum to launch up the other side. Miraculously I didn't fall off, but the first time I tackled the starting ramp, I pedalled full-pelt and launched into the air from the first bump! Miraculously I didn't fall off, and it made me appreciate just how fast the pros are going when they fly between the jumps. It was loads of fun, and definitely one of the sports I'd love to do again.  

Ellie:   I can't fully explain how satisfying it was to make it round this crazy track without stopping or more importantly, falling over. Our instructors took us through the basics and then threw us into the full circuit and I think we could all have ridden for more than an hour. However, at one point when I was half way up a steep slope my shoe flew off and I was sure I'd had it! There is a lot to remember with BMX and like the velodrome, it's nothing like riding a normal bike. You can't coast, you can't sit down, you can't take a break. You just have to keep the momentum going and keep looking straight ahead. I think BMX gets some points for the safety equipment as it really gave me a feeling of confidence and authenticity - we looked awesome in those helmets!  

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

BONUS EVENT #1 - Powerlifting

Event: Powerlifting or Benchpress
Date: 1st November 2013
Location: East Bergholt Sports Centre with the Suffolk Spartans
Cost: Free
Rules: Male and Female athletes assume a position on a specially designed bench and, after taking or receiving the bar at arms length, the lifter shall wait with locked elbows for the referee's signal. After receiving the signal 'start', the lifter must lower the bar to the chest, hold it motionless (visible) on the chest and then press upwards, with an even extension of the arms, to arms-length with locked elbows. When held motionless in this position the audible signal 'rack' shall be given.


London 2012 Gold Medal Weights:: 106.0kg - 162.0kg
Ellie: 31kg
Sarah: 26.5kg

Ellie: When Sarah and I began this challenge we didn't expect to have time for extra events but we knew we'd take any opportunity that came our way and weightlifting has given me one of the greatest experiences so far. This project has posed many problems for me and the biggest has been capability. As many of you know, I was born with Bilateral Talipes Equinovarus, a lower limb deformity which has both affected me and not bothered me at all in almost equal measures throughout my life! I had scores of operations to manipulate and correct my feet and legs and these only stopped at the age of 16. Sport has always been one of the areas that I have found most frustrating as I have zero balance, leg strength and speed but a massive amount of desire to be able to do the same as my peers; and so this was a very important bonus event for me.

While learning Weightlifting, our coach Tom noticed how I was struggling with the necessary balance needed to complete the entire move. He probably also noticed how annoyed I felt about it! Tom then suggested something that without exaggeration, opened up sports for me a little bit - Benchpress.  This is a sport that relies on you not using your legs at all in any traditional sense. It is easiest for those with good core muscles and upper body strength and I enjoyed it very much. On my first attempt I was able to Benchpress 30kg - a weight that Tom says he has never seen a female lifter press on their first attempt. 

When we were invited to visit the Suffolk Spartans, where 2012 Paralympic Gold Medalist, Zoe Newson trained, we were both really excited and the experience was wonderful. With only a small set of equipment and limited space, this club trains a variety of people with a variety of impairments and the atmosphere was warm and supportive. We chatted to their members throughout the evening and then were invited to have a go ourselves. I am very proud to say that I achieved a new personal best of 31kg. It is safe to say that I will be returning to Powerlifting when our challenge is complete - it's top of my list! 

Sarah: Why settle for 114 events when you could do 115?! It was a pleasure to be asked along to the Spartans training sessions, and try another event. We were really surprised that the club has just one bench, and such a small training area, but when the high costs of the equipment were explained to us, it all made sense. The Spartans are one of the three Paralympic powerlifting clubs in the country, and train 2012 bronze medal winner Zoe Newson, but they didn't receive a single penny of legacy funding, or even any legacy equipment. The dedication of the club owners, who also double up as the coaches, is inspiring. Having one bench does result in a brilliant atmosphere, with all the athletes cheering and heckling; spurring each other on to lift heavier weights, and being a real part of each others progress. On to the event, and I found this one really hard! My upper-body strength isn't brilliant, and I struggled to shift the weight after the pause on the chest. was like trying to move a completely dead weight! My arms were wobbling all over the place, and it took every ounce of effort to try and get the bar stationary.  

Ellie: We'd like to thank our coach Tom for all his help and the Suffolk Spartans who are a wonderful and welcoming club. If you would like any information on Talipes please visit the Steps website. Steps is a charity dedicated to supporting families affected by lower limb abnormalities and one that has meant a lot to me throughout my life!

London 2012 Bronze Medallist Zoe Newson powerlifting crazy weights in training: