Foto: Signe Falkenberg
The General Secretary of the Estonian Union of Sport for the Disabled Signe Falkenberg utters a sentence which makes you see the matter from a totally different aspect: “For a disabled person sports is definitely the study of life. “ She has been working in the system of parasport for over 25 years and has given her contribution, and according to her own words she realises every year that people, whose life has radically changed (unexpectedly) due to a physical disability and after they have overcome the first shock and become used to the new reality and start doing sports or exercising, are able to go on with their lives. “They have found themselves thanks to sports and have been able to start working, go to school, create a family, and live a full live. It is not the case with all people, but to many people sports enable to return the meaning of life to them. If you cannot live in the old way and do not know what to do next, you can use the options provided by sports,“ said Signe Falkenberg.
Signe Falkenberg has practiced wheelchair tennis and wheelchair curling for years. “Unfortunately wheelchair tennis did not reach us earlier when I was younger. For me it has been a really good rehabilitation and exercising hobby. I compete a little in order to have something to strive for. I try to be a role model for others and stress the idea why sports are good for a person with mobility disability. I have discussed with my rehabilitation doctor and physiotherapist what exercising has given to me.“ Signe says that a nice company of people, having actually no special competing ambitions, comes to play tennis together. However, there is one young person among them whom they all encourage and push forward in tennis because this young person has talent, will and power to reach higher places in wheelchair tennis. “It is the same in real sports that at first it is a hobby and then suddenly the more talented ones - the ones who have more interest start competing. We do not necessarily have to start in the childhood as the disability may occurs in one’s later life and parasport may become an option later but otherwise the development in sports is quite similar,“ says Signe Falkenberg.
The Estonian Union of Sports for the Disabled deals with sports and rehabilitation problems among people with mobility disability. One can train also on one’s own and for the sake of one’s health but if you want to go to the Para Olympic Games, you definitely need a coach. Actually no special skills are required from a coach training para-athletes, but they have to know the specific movement abilities of the trainee. “In cooperation with the Tennis Association we have been looking around among coaches to find a suitable coach to train us and then make a proposition. Sometimes also the international sub-association helps us, we have received help from Latvian and Lithuanian coaches. We even sent referees and coaches to international training sessions in sitting volleyball. Nowadays there are many training programs also in the Internet,” explains Signe Falkenberg. “Sports among people with mobility disability do not require more than from an ordinary sports coach: there is no need to treat us – people with mobility disability differently, although special skills may become handy while dealing with people who have intellectual disability. The specifics of sports become clear during working and teaching. The sports of people with mobility disability tries to follow the ordinary sports as precisely as possible. Yes, in sledge hockey the player sits on a sledge but the rules of the game are still the same as in hockey. This is the same in tennis, although you may bounce the ball twice as the game is so fast. That gives extra time to the person moving in the wheelchair although they are very fast in the wheelchair anyway. The more the coach works with a trainee, the better the coach realises what to do. For example, in light athletics – as disabilities and mobility disabilities may all be different, the coach learns together with the trainee. “
Foto: Signe Falkenberg
Signe Falkenberg admits that a coach does not sit on the bench and wait for the group to turn up for the training session. In parasport the approach has to be individual. While discussing different options of parasport, you will definitely find something to go in for even in the smallest village. ”Everything depends on people and choices. OK, may be you cannot practice wheelchair tennis in the countryside because there are no tennis courts, but then also the ordinary tennis cannot be played there! But one can practice orienteering, wheelchair racing or even archery in one’s back yard!“
Signe does not like to hear discussions when people talk about the need for separate sports centres for the disabled people. ”There is no need to create special sports centres for the disabled who would only come there. Sports facilities have to be built so that they are accessible not only for the audience but also for the participants. Problems occur with people with mobility disability and sometimes also with the blind,“ stressed Falkenberg. “It would be helpful if the doors of the dressing rooms are made a bit wider, toilets a little bigger, there were handles and seats in the shower room... And when talking about the stairs in the building, there should be an alternative access. “Fortunately, new sports halls are already built in that way. It has been also our work to remind them about it,“ says Falkenberg.
The Estonian Union of Sports for the Disabled stands for the organisation of training sessions so that coaches, supervisors, PE teachers, physiotherapists were informed about the options of parasport and know how it can be practiced. A practical training session “How to teach parasport events: the specifics and rules for training people with special needs“ within cooperation of the Estonian Paralympics Committee, Tallinn University, Estonian Union of Sports for the Disabled and Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Centre is being planned. “We would give all participants a possibility to try out the events. You sit in a wheelchair and try it out how you can play basketball. We will supervise and demonstrate what is necessary,” explains Signe Falkenberg. We plan to include in the training para-rowing, swimming, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball. ”Usually it is so that when a person tries out something, he/she will be inspired and will come up with new ideas. We also want to see PE teachers in our training session. Teachers should find every pupil an option, which makes him/her exercise and participate. A pupil may be the person to write down the results or be a whistler or a referee. We also invite physiotherapists because they meet our target group one to one. In rehabilitation we do not talk about moving one leg or hand - you have to see the big picture. When a physiotherapist knows what parasport is, then he/she is able to suggest a person one or another specific event that complies with the person’s abilities,” says Signe Falkenberg.
Foto: Signe Falkenberg
Madli Leikop is a journalist and EPALE Ambassador