Meet Elliot, he has been part of the Super 1s programme in Gloucestershire for over a year. From initially finding playing with other people a little daunting, Elliot, whilst overcoming his own challenges, has also helped others understand and deal with theirs. This is his story.
Ian Martin (ECB’s Head of Disability Cricket) often repeats a line that sums up what’s possible when people are really seen, namely that your altitude should be defined by your attitude, not your aptitude. Elliot is proof of that: fostered through the framework and structure of cricket, he has blossomed.
For Louise Wembridge, Elliot’s mother, that’s a priceless commodity for a parent. “What I find is that in relation to the game, everybody is very supportive,” she says. “They’re still competitive, as in they want to do well, but they’re not competitive as in: ‘I want to do better than you’. When you get to watch children play as a group, you get a sense of happiness and a sense of what play really is. Non-disabled people can forget that, but they take it back to its roots.”
Super 1s helped light the touchpaper for a flame that burns brightly for Elliot. While he loves the game, he loves the glue binding it all together – teamwork, friendship, a common goal. Louise has been astonished by the changes she’s seen in Elliot through cricket, which she says, “opened up the world for him.”
“I’m so proud of him as a mum – he’s a very happy young man, who inspires me.” She’s no less thrilled it was something he found off his own bat, pardon the pun. “I was told at his school; he was in mainstream at the time. They said, he really loves cricket – it’d be lovely if he could do some more. I said: ‘Does he?’ I didn’t even know! Then some of the other mums I knew said: ‘Come to Super 1s, it’s really good.’ I thought, let’s give it a try.”
At Elliot’s first session back in 2019 he was the only child present – “they were loads older and bigger than him” – but stuck it out. Any concerns Louise had about him fitting in were swiftly allayed. “They were so lovely, really supportive and patient,” she recalls. “And then his coach Jeanette [Tate] began to do another promotion, to encourage younger children to come.”
Since then, with Elliot a mainstay helping new recruits, such as his friend Aaron, the sessions have become busy enough to split along age lines. “There were nine or ten kids there this week,” Louise adds.
“So we’ve gone from one – Elliot – to ten. It’s amazing what Jeanette has done.” The restart of Super 1s has proved particularly beneficial for Elliot, who lives with Down’s syndrome and hypotonia (decreased muscle tone). Asked how tough lockdown was, Louise rolls her eyes and replies with real emphasis: “extremely.” Elliot’s father and brother are both key workers, so continued with their jobs. “It was just Elliot and I, really,” she says.
Though there were Super 1s zoom sessions, Elliot found those quite pressured. The family home had also been turned upside down by ongoing building work that started before the initial lockdown in spring 2020. An extra layer of difficulty comes through Elliot’s complex physical needs that couldn’t be met by daily walks, which put pressure on his ankles.
“His muscles are super-flexible, but they’re like an elastic band that’s overstretched,” Louise adds. “So, for him, doing sport builds that up and strengthens it, but what would take a few weeks or a month for others [to regress], for him it’s days, so we have to do something every week. He would do two sessions of cricket a week if he could.”
As Louise puts it, it’s all about the opportunity to grow – the recommencement of Super 1s was, she says crucial. “Our lifeline – when everything is shut down, you literally have nothing. It sounds dramatic to say you have nothing, but he literally only had us.”
“People don’t quite realise how difficult it can be at home, how much they have to struggle, and how much they want to be like the others,” she adds. “These little achievements, to everybody else they’re ice cubes, but to us they’re icebergs.”
It’s a beautiful analogy, summing up the difference made by shining a light into less-lit corners. “Often our children get missed,” Louise says. “It’s very hard for them to be recognised. In the competitive world we live in, it’s hard for them to be winners, or to be seen as the winners that they actually are. He’s my winner!”