USA Boccia, Inc, the governing body for all boccia activity in the United States, hosted the 2015 US Boccia Nationals in Gardner, Kansas on July 17 ? 21, 2015. My uncle, Pat Dalton, was in large part responsible for these games landing on Kansas soil and he recuited many of my cousins, and me, as volunteers. On Sunday, the 19th, I was a ?line-person, assisting referees and athletes at this event. It was an inspiring, holy event. A month later, it feels?as if the sun is shining on my face when I think about that day, and all the amazing para athletes I met.
Boccia, a game that started in Italy, has been a part of the Paralympic Games?since 1984. It tests the athlete’s coordination, accuracy, concentration and ability to strategize.?Boccia is played indoors on a flat, smooth surface by individuals, pairs or teams of three. Athletes throw, kick or use an assistive device to propel leather balls as close as possible to a white target ball (the jack). There are?six red balls and?six blue balls.?In an individual match, which has four ends, each player throws six?balls. Throwers with CP play in teams of three, each getting?two of the balls, to play?six ends. Pairs play?four ends and each team member gets?three balls.?Pair games are played by athletes with disabilities of non-cerebral origin who can throw and by athletes who can’t throw, but rather, use a ramp as an assistive device to propel the ball, often a wand attached to a headband.
Originally presented as a sport for athletes with cerebral palsy, Boccia is now open to male and female athletes with severe locomotor disabilities of a cerebral or non-cerebral origin, including individuals with CP, stroke, traumatic brain injury, high-level spinal cord injuries,?muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and arthrogryposis.
At these Nationals, approximately 35% of the athletes were American military veterans from across the country. All competitors were wheel-chair athletes, and many of the veterans were amputees, as well.?When?I returned their balls after a match, or wheeled them to the next court, I spoke with the athletes?learned?about their lives and stories. Always the photographer, but without a camera this time, I also looked at them?through?eyes connected?to my mind and heart. In?the eyes, faces and bodies of these magnificent athletes, whose current life paths were unplanned, and are?charted and re-charted every day, every hour and often every minute, I saw profound?fear challenged full-on and surmounted by courage,?hope confronting?unutterable despair, strength defying breathtaking loss, happiness daring sorrow–and winning.
What does it take to be a powerful athlete? What does a hero look like in action? These boccia competitors defined both. Facing challenges, and competing with heart and an all-out?spirit to win on the boccia court and off, these men and women are,?each and everyone, heroic, powerful athletes, regardless of the origin of their disabilities.
Below are two YouTube videos of Boccia athletes playing the game they love–and love to win.