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A narrative exploration of sport as a transformative space for those with spinal cord injuries : "Sport is absolutely transformational post-injury. It changes people's lives."

Sport New Zealand undertook a review in 2018 which found that within our country, 24% of the population - 1.1 million people - identify as disabled, all of whom are less likely to participate in and experience the benefits of sport than those who are able-bodied. Following this came the release of Sport New Zealand’s ‘Disability Plan’, of which the enactment has been slow. With the help of further research exploring the lived experiences of those with spinal cord injuries in sport alongside the ‘Disability Plan’, there is great potential to reach Sport New Zealand’s goal of ensuring that all New Zealanders have access to quality sporting experiences. It is to this that my attention turned, with this narrative inquiry using semi-structured interviews to explore the experiences of eight individuals (seven males, one female) with spinal cord injuries in sport, all belonging to regional and national wheelchair rugby clubs. The intention was to better understand what it is like to live and participate in sport with a spinal cord injury, and what could be gained from being involved. Through these insights, it is hoped that sport is better utilised as a transformative space for a larger number of individuals, and that measures to facilitate continued participation are understood by organisations and practitioners. The results illustrate that wheelchair rugby has been nothing less than a transformational space where participants were able to accept their impairments as part of their identity and (re)discover themselves through embodied learning experiences from the sport and the environment created. This environment became an escape from the ‘real world’ for a period, and often, pain that the participants experienced. Wheelchair rugby has been a vehicle for opportunities - opening doors for participants and creating a world in which they felt as though they could do anything. This research offers insight into underdeveloped areas that are needed to be understood to allow for more individuals to experience disability sport as they deserve.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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