Financial constraints threaten programme for disabled athletes

An SOS for funding to underpin a crucial sports programme for children and teens with physical disabilities has been issued by Cork-based multi-sports club Rebel Wheelers.

The charity, which began in 2008 with just five young members, now provides a wide range of sports services, six days a week to 50 families from all over the Cork region, as well as in Kerry and Waterford.

“We have also received inquiries about the group from families in Tipperary,” said spokesman Jerry O’Regan.

Its aim is to promote independence, health and wellbeing for members through participation in sport.

However, Mr O’Regan warned that Rebel Wheeler member families were “exhausted” by the annual struggle to raise the necessary funding for one of its newest and most successful initiatives, the strength and conditioning programme, which has been running since 2015.

The continued focus on a battle to raise money was, he added, also taking volunteers away from their important “core work” with the children.

Members of Rebel Wheelers, who are aged from five to 18, enjoy a variety of sports, ranging from athletics, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby to boccia and a special Saturday morning club which features a range of activities and games such as badminton and archery.

In 2015, the organisation, which has about 30 core volunteers and is run entirely through the voluntary work of parents, introduced the strength and conditioning programme for 10 members between the ages of 11 and 18 after it received National Lottery funding of €10,000.

Some of the members involved in the programme were competing in Paralympic-equivalent competitions.

“We wanted to help them build their core strength on top of their normal sporting fitness,” said Mr O’Regan.

The programme also incorporated elements on mindfulness, well-being and nutrition.

He described the subsequent improvements in the children in terms of their physical, emotional and mental operation as “fundamental”.

The following year, the group raised in the region of €15,000 through a number of organisations, including the Ireland Fund and the Hospital Saturday Fund, and the course continued once more, in 2016-2017.

At that stage, the number of participants in the programme had increased to 14. Now the group is seeking funding of €20,000 for the year 2017-2018.

The group is now appealing to organisations, or government bodies, to provide stability with ongoing funding into the future.

“We have applied again for National Lottery funding through the HSE and we are also appealing to any organisation or government body that would be interested in offering funding for this very efficacious programme,” said Mr O’Regan. “We’d hope to keep this funding going for the long-term development of the programme.

“We are 100% volunteer-led. No-one gets paid.”

Mr O’Regan said that all the work was carried out by parent volunteers.

“However, the struggle to get that funding every year is exhausting and also takes away from the core work we are doing,” he said.


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