Just exercise, it seems so simple
Pack your sports bag, put on sneakers, and go to the sports field to run and move. Alone or in a team. It seems so obvious, but for many children in the Netherlands it’s not at all. Children with a physical limitation don’t exercise at all, or hardly ever, and are not members of any sports club. But sport can mean so much to you. I experienced that myself, after I became paraplegic when I was 8 years old. Sport has brought me an incredible amount. It has made me who I am today. I have learned what I can and cannot do. I am therefore convinced that weekly exercise ensures that every child gets to know the power of self-confidence. Self-confidence that you so desperately need to progress in life.
My foundation is active at nearly 30 sports clubs in the Netherlands. At all these associations we give children and young people with a physical disability the opportunity to ‘just’ exercise, just like any other child. The impact is huge. It so often happens that the children come nervous to participate in a clinic. But they find it exciting and don’t know if they can do it. This is also an exciting but stressful moment for the parents: is it going well, is it too difficult or too tiring, can my child do this? When I see them again at a training a few months later, they exercise like everybody else and above all have a lot of fun. That is the power of sport.
When it comes to sports, parents of children with a physical disability play a hugely important role, certainly in the beginning. Parents usually choose whether or not to start. Often it is initially seen as “another weekly obligation,” until they see what sport, playing with other children and being part of a club does for their child. That smile on the face of their child and the pleasure that the children experience together makes most parents switch. Fortunately!
Research has shown that nearly 70 percent of children and young people with physical disabilities are lonely. That’s more than half. Weekly sports also play a very important role in addressing this. In addition to all the physical benefits that sports offer, it also contributes to the mental health and personal development of the children in social areas. Sport ensures that you make friends and feel like you belong.
If you have a son or daughter with a physical disability or know someone in your area, and you want to know more about sports and exercise, please contact us. We are happy to help you.
Esther Marie-Louise Lemmen
Director Esther Vergeer Foundation
Photos, Esther Vergeer Foundation