Thursday, 27 October 2016

British Vaulting Championships

At the weekend we went to Rugby in Warwickshire for the British Vaulting Championships. It was run over two days, and although I was only competing on the second day, we went along to watch some of the activity on the first day too. It was really exciting for me to watch some world-class vaulting live and up close! I was also able to watch some of our more experienced Cambridge vaulters doing their freestyles. Boris was clearly not quite as full of beans as he could have been but the girls did really well anyway.
Blurry but one of the best I got on my phone! This is Meghan vaulting on Boris, lunged by Jade.
Our hotel was good and, unlike at the English, there was no noisy party going on late into the night! I had a nice shower and did some stretches for my back and shoulders and some rolling with spiky balls for my legs. Earlier in the day, I'd had a sports massage which had managed to loosen some knots in my neck and left shoulder. It felt good at the time but was a bit sore by the evening so I had to spend a bit more time on that than I normally would. It's times like those that I'm always glad I've decided to stay the night close to the competition so I don't have to sit in the car for hours too - something which is never conducive to movement and flexibility!
What it feels like my body has done every time I get out of a car.
In the morning there was zero rush to get to the venue, which was unusual but very welcome! We arrived in time to watch some canter freestyles (which they do on Saturday then repeat on Sunday, for some reason). I sat with a chap from a different club who I've met at previous competitions. I love chatting with him, especially when we're watching vaulting, because he's very experienced and can talk through what the vaulters are doing, how they're doing it, how hard it is, and how it could be better. It's like a masterclass - I'm watching amazing vaulters and hearing real-time feedback which I can then discuss and ask questions about - perfect! I also watched some of the walk squads, a walk trio, and quite a few walk pas de deux (pairs) entries. All really good for getting some new ideas; I went home with lots of stuff to think about and to experiment with!
I saw quite a few people successfully pulling off this move - in canter...!
The main thing that was challenging about the weekend was that it was REALLY cold. The venue was set in the middle of a windswept plain and the various arenas (hosting the competition and warm-up areas) were icy. Whilst watching other people I was wrapped up in a million layers and couldn't begin to contemplate taking those layers off and just going out in leggings and a leotard. It would be OK if I could at least run around a bit like the others do to warm up! As it was I stuck with wearing layers over competition kit for as long as possible - certainly whilst doing all my stretching - and keeping a jumper on when I was warming up on Boris. I went through my routine but didn't want to overdo it because I was quite tired. The rest of the time, I experimented with a couple of different moves and generally just lay and gave him a hug so I could steal some body heat!
Cuddly Boris :)
Most of the moves felt OK but for some reason I was struggling with the back push-up. This had never been a problem before, but for some reason my leggings were really slipping on his back and on the first attempt I slipped badly and nearly slid off. I'd like to blame the leggings but I wore the same ones for the English without a problem! Anyway, I did that move several times until I felt that I'd worked out a way of doing it without embarrassment. It didn't look pretty but it was better than falling off.
Slightly awkward back push up
Nett (lungeing) had suggested a couple of changes to our 'run in', which worked much more smoothly than at the English. The main difference was to have someone (Jade) in the arena to combine the role of stick-taking and standing in front of Boris so that he stood still whilst another helper (Meghan) bunked me up. That way, Nett was actually in the middle of the ring and ready to lunge me straight away, rather than making Boris stand then having to run out again whilst I was busy getting on with the routine. Team Cambridge pulled it all off very smoothly anyway!
Our bow to the judge
Right - the routine! It felt pretty shaky to me, but even I have to admit that the video doesn't show that except in the wobbliest moments. The free kneel was fine, and I gave the judge a big grin as I made myself as magnificent as possible.
Next was the Y-stand, which also went nicely but there was no appreciative gasp from the audience this time!
The reverse prince seat on the neck felt pretty secure, and I transitioned quite easily into the sideways kneel on the back with my right leg out on Boris's neck.
Unfortunately this was where the first major wobble happened - I lost my balance a bit and fell forwards, but grabbed the handle in time so hopefully didn't lose too many points there.
Minor wobble!
Next was the flare leg out behind, which I haven't really felt comfy with in a while, for some reason.
For the first time I remembered to move my leg back nicely to position myself for the next part of the routine - perhaps because I was right by the judge at that point!
After that I went round into the lie back, which was fine.
I didn't even feel too dodgy sitting up, which was a win especially since I was competing in the afternoon and hadn't had lunch (nerves!).
After this I sat up and then went into the reverse push up (see above!), which mercifully did not result in me sliding off Boris.
Next was a sort of transitional princess seat going, eventually, to an arabesque.
It wasn't my best arabesque but it was alright.
The final thing was a free prince seat on the back, which was quite wobbly again - a shame as it was right by the judge!
As I prepared for the roll off he rang the bell (which signifies "dismount now please, your time is up!") so that was pretty much perfect.
I came out feeling that it had gone OK but I hadn't done it as well as the English, so I was a bit disappointed. The other para vaulters went in after me and there was a seating area for competitors right by the arena, so I sat there to get my breath back and to watch and cheer! All the other para vaulters were from a different club, but were using Cambridge horses and (therefore) Cambridge lungers. It felt good that my club was there to help them out. I was also expecting some vaulters to come down from Scotland (there's a long-established and very successful RDA vaulting group in Berwickshire) but unfortunately although I saw some of their coaches with able-bodied vaulters they didn't have any para vaulters.
Jade rushing my crutch to me at the end of my routine!
After that we were off to the stables to do a manic bit of mucking out so that the horses could be packed off home as soon as possible. Boysie was going first (having been used for some of our tiny vaulters and two of the RDA ones) so we quickly untacked him, gave him a brush, and got his rugs and boots on ready for the trailer. Nett, Jade and Alexis took Sandie and Boris for a nibble of the grass whilst a bunch of us vaulters (plus a couple of mums!) grabbed brooms, forks and wheelbarrows to clean out the stalls. Sandie's was pretty clean so we were able to leave a fair bit of the bedding in there but Boris had made a right old mess of his stall! Fortunately we just finished before an official came to tell us that it was time for the prizegiving - perfect timing.
Jade and Boysie with their mini vaulters! (Cambridge able-bodied under-9)
All of the results were known beforehand except for the walk classes. It was good fun to cheer on our 'big' experienced vaulters - Lexi and Meghan in the Junior 1* and Senior 1* respectively, Izzy and Katie in the Novice, and Arabella and Sheri-Anne in the Pre-Novice. A couple of pairs had also competed: Elea and Lilli, Arabella and Vivi, and Izzy and Ruby. In the walk individual class, we had five in the under 9 category, including the winner (Chloe)! They awarded (and therefore announced) the placings from bottom to first, so when there was just Chloe and one another girl from another club left to be announced it was all very tense - and then all very exciting when the other girl's name was called first!
Boysie and Chloe - British Champions in action!
Finally they got to the Para class. Superman (Owen) came fourth, then James (Under the Sea) was third, Blossom (Abba, I think? Can't remember properly...) was second and I was first. Nett was thrilled as we went up to get our rosettes - for first place, the lunger gets a 'Champion' rosette too which is right and proper - and even more excited when we were also awarded a trophy!
Me and Nett accepting our rosettes and trophy!
Having examined it a bit more closely now I think it is for the entire Walk Individual class, not just the Para sub-category. With 23 competitors in total, this was the biggest class in the entire weekend's events, so I was pretty pleased to gain the highest score.
We all got given free bags too - can you spot the 'deliberate' mistake? :P
After that there was time for photos and general happiness before saying one last 'thank you and goodbye' to the team and then piling in the car to head home. It took just under two hours to get back which wasn't bad at all!
Unfortunately, once we did get back we realised we'd left behind a bag containing my new vaulting shoes, my homemade CVC gilet and - worst of all - my brand new British Championships hoodie. Nightmare! After two days of fruitless searching, phoning (thank you Ma) and emailing, I finally got the very happy news yesterday that the bag is now in the possession of Lexi's mum so I shall get my cool hoodie after all. This is a great relief - I hadn't even tried it on and it had been rather pricey!
I should also mention the pumpkin, carved by CVC's own Meghan, which was crowned Champion Pumpkin! It had the BEV logo on the other side. This photo was taken by my mum and I'm not entirely sure whether she just took one accidentally of the floor or whether it was deliberate!
We now have a week and a half off vaulting. This is quite hard but I've found other ways to channel my inner vaulter! I need to work on strength and flexibility, and in particular I've learned I need to improve my control of my hip flexors (which are often not great in wheelchair users). This will make it easier for me to compete at the next level up next year, which is what I'm aiming to do. I'm also working on a new costume and a new routine to go with my new music...so it's all very exciting!
My favourite photo from the weekend. I love this horse!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Addenbrooke's Kitchen

Today, I had an Occupational Therapy (OT) appointment. The idea of OT is to help me to live as independently as I can and to help me to do all the things I'd like to be able to do to have a better quality of life. I had to cancel my last appointment because I was too poorly to go into town, and although I was still really tired I didn't want to be discharged, because OT has the potential to be genuinely useful!
And they prescribe things like piano practice :) (This is a photo from early 2007)
Today's session was held in the OT kitchen - a part of the hospital which is rather obscure and tucked away. The idea of the OT kitchen is to replicate what you would have at home as far as possible, but the drawers contain really useful stuff instead of the general clutter we have at home! I was able to try out all sorts of things and we tried to address as many problems as possible. Fortunately, there was quite a lot that could help. I don't want to spend a fortune on expensive gadgets, so it's nice to find some that are affordable. At the risk of sounding as if I'm on some terrible low-budget TV advert, these are a few of my favourite discoveries of the day:
  1. Dycem non-slip mats, grippers, tapes etc. I've seen these before in catalogues but never tried one out, and I have to say I was very impressed! I thought they would just help a bit but after managing to open a whole load of stuff with no gripping effort at all from my left hand I realised just how useful all these little items can be. Normally I have to 'grip' things by hooking them in my left arm and then grappling with my right hand but with these mats I just have to lean my left hand against something to keep it still (no need to grip at all!) and then put about 20% effort in with my right hand. Sooooooooo good!
  2. 'Chip pan' basket. This is definitely going to change my experience of cooking! Apart from the fact that I don't really like cooking at all, I prefer to cook on the hob because it's a more convenient height than anything else. A big thing I struggle with, though, is straining pasta/vegetables/potatoes (etc.), which is where this basket thing comes in - simply fill it up with your food, then pour water over the top, then you can just lift out your food when it's done. No more attempting to pick up big heavy pans of boiling water! (And, inevitably, losing quite a bit of your freshly-steamed food as you attempt to wield a pan and a colander.)
  3. Jar key - for vacuum jars (e.g. jam) that haven't had the seal broken yet, this is your friend. Cheap, light, simple to use.
  4. Cutlery. There's LOADS of cutlery on offer. One thing I quite liked was a rocky knife - it's a normal knife that is sort of banana-shaped and you just rock it back and forth and it cuts your food for you easily. Combine this with a dycem mat under your plate and suddenly one-handed eating gets quite a bit easier!
    (Who eats canned peaches on toast?!)
  5. Easi Grip scissors - kind of a loop. It's not difficult to press the blades in, then they ping out again gently by themselves. Much easier on a dodgy, achey hand. Also, should my left hand ever become the useful one, a pair of these can be used in either hand!
  6. Plate surrounds - I don't know why, but I like these as a concept but don't really want to [need to] use them. They are cheap, simple and effective though, which I love.

So, I have some hugely exciting internet shopping to do!
Although I didn't buy it, this unicorn head that I found today is quite possibly the most exciting thing I've ever seen for sale in my whole entire life.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

English Vaulting Championships

In September my mum and I made the trip to Stow on the Wold in Gloucestershire, England to attend the English Vaulting Championships at the Unicorn Equestrian Centre.
New kit!
We stayed in a hotel just outside Witney in Oxfordshire, which was quite swanky but unfortunately our room was right by the bar, and they had a big, noisy event going on until 1.30am which didn't fit in with my plans for an early night and some decent rest! After the realistic threat that if I didn't get my pills down and then me asleep quickly they might be needing to call an ambulance, we were moved to a much quieter room. Making a fuss is pretty difficult if you're British but I'm glad we did - the music was SO loud (as were the people singing, talking and dancing away) and it was all only just outside our room. I really don't like not having a restful night before a competition!
Anyway, the next day we got up a little bit later than planned (the room change had been pretty late as we'd given them to 11.30pm before asking when it might stop) but had a decent breakfast and then made our way to the competition. It was very badly signposted and in a bit of the country where technology goes to die, so our attempts to find it were somewhat hampered and made me stress out a bit but finally we arrived! Everyone else was already there; people doing compulsories had already done those and everyone just doing walk individual (including me) was starting to get warmed up and into costume. Despite the slightly fraught evening, night, morning and journey, we were in good enough time for my mum to be able to do my hair whilst I vaguely attempted to stretch.
After that it was time for a warm-up on the barrel...
...and then on Boris.
Once I got on Boris and had done a few moves I felt a lot calmer. It's nice to be sitting high up above everyone else and it instantly makes me feel better! I was still a bit nervous about the competition, but now I was able to identify my nerves as being 1) what the others in my class might be like and 2) how I would perform, rather than there being a million and one little irritations that were making me extra shaky.
Having warmed up and been ready to go, we waited with Boris by the edge of the ring. I was quite surprised that there were quite a few people there already to watch us all. I was glad I had time to see what the other competitors did - things like knowing which judge to bow to, where to enter the arena and where to exit, and so on - and I tried to relax and enjoy watching everyone else.
Final pep talk from Nett.
Before me there were four vaulters from Talygarn in Wales: two girls in their teens and then two chaps who were both in the Para class. I'd never seen Talygarn para vaulters before but I knew the club was good and their warm-up on the barrel had looked very secure so I was a bit anxious to see what they'd be like!
Unfortunately, the two para-vaulters were easy for me to forget after the performance of the girl just before them: she was going well and looking really good until, during a stand, the horse broke into trot, she fell off, landed on the floor, and promptly started screaming. After a few moments in which the music awkwardly stopped, the horse was halted, and everyone looked a bit awkward, some members of her club were able to run in, and after a bit of deliberation they picked her up and carried her out. They carried on with the para vaulters but after all that excitement it took me a bit of time to concentrate again, so I don't really remember much of what the two Talygarn paras did. Instead, Nett (my fantastic lunger) remarked to me that I 'wouldn't have made a fuss like that', even though we later found out that the poor girl had broken her leg!
Anyway, it was my turn to do my thing and I actually really enjoyed it. The work I'd done on matching my music better went really well, and I remembered to do almost all the little things that I need to do to make it look good!
My favourite moment was the Y-stand, which I'd worked on and changed how I was holding my left foot (the one in the air) so that it looked better. As I lifted my leg up I heard people gasp, probably because a Y-stand is fairly straightforward for an AB vaulter but more unusual in para-vaulting. It's only the second move (after a free kneel) so that really set me up nicely for the rest of the routine - it gave me a lot of confidence.
The only other move I was really worried about was the dismount, as that was what had caused my separated shoulder. I'd only done it once since the incident - in the warm-up half an hour earlier! - and I had known at that point that I only had one left in my shoulder. Fortunately, it went OK and didn't hurt too much, so that was all fine.
Preparing for the dismount and thinking, "Please, please, please..."
We bowed, and then 'ran' out! After that it was time for me to kick back, relax, watch the others and nervously await the results...
Walking out HAPPILY! with Nett, my lovely lunger, and Boris.
Team Cambridge was having a good day. I got to watch all the pairs and then the canter freestyles and pre-novice freestyles (pre-novice competitors perform compulsories in canter and a freestyle in walk). I'd also been able to watch the walk individual freestyles (same level as me) before me so I saw all of the Cambridge people compete. Everyone did well! Ruby, who is only 9, nailed her dismount (cartwheel off Sandie's bum) and landed perfectly. In the same class (pre-novice), Sheri-Anne, Charlotte and Arabella all looked very confident and very technical. Lexi and Meghan both looked so graceful and powerful during their 1* routines, and Isabelle and Katie rose to the occasion of their first national-level canter freestyle too, nailing their unassisted mounts in canter and looking solid throughout the routine. The pairs were really fun to watch, although it seemed a bit of a shame that the 'walk pairs' class doesn't have any subcategories for different age groups - little Lilli and Alea, who have a combined age of 13, were against far older, stronger and more experienced competitors, for example. That said, the combination that eventually won - from the Unicorn group - were absolutely brilliant, and two of our girls (Charlotte and Sheri-Anne) came second so that was fantastic!
Sheri-Anne and Charlotte as superheroes, with Nett in a matching cape!
There was a bit of a hoohah with the scores in the under-9 age group for walk individual, which affected all of our Cambridge girls. Basically, they put up one set of results which listed one of our girls (Chloe) as coming last by quite a long way, which seemed unlikely as she's extremely good. They reviewed the results and realised that the score they'd given her (3.something) was actually what they should have taken away from ten (i.e. a score of 6.something). Once her score, and those of others in the same position, had been adjusted, Chloe was in first place and the positions of some of our others had shifted. Most notably, Vivi, who is only seven, was now in second place instead of first (as she had been before). I have to say that I have never seen as good a display of sportsmanship as we saw in little Vivienne that day. She had - rightly! - been so excited to be the English Champion, but she didn't resent the fact that this was shortlived and was taken away, to be given to someone she knew. Vivi and Chloe are good friends, but even so Vivi's reaction - a bit quiet, but not crying, not getting cross; not making a fuss at all - was incredibly mature. In fact, she was delighted for Chloe, and very excited to have come second in the country. I don't know many adults who would be that mature - I don't think I would have been. She was amazing.
Vivi, in white, with her big sister Arabella, vaulting on Sandie in the pairs event.
Anyway - my score! Well, actually, I don't have it to hand (I'll try to remember to update this when I do have it)... The important thing, though, is that I came first. I was very, very happy!
And I got a BEV teddy bear! (No, I don't know what my left arm is doing here...)
The rest of the day was spent properly relaxing and enjoying everyone's performances. By the time the presentation was done I was exhausted and ready to head back for a relaxing evening. My mum and I had decided to stay one more night so that we didn't have to have the stress of driving back straightaway, which turned out to be such a good idea! In the morning we were able to take advantage of the hotel's pool, sauna and jacuzzi (soooooo good) before checking out, going shopping at Bicester, and heading back just in time for me to go wheelchair racing! (No rest for the wicked...)
Oi, stop lying down!
Top results CVC (you know it was a good competition when you only include Champions and Reserve Champions):
Senior 1* - Meghan came 2nd
Junior 1* - Lexi is English Champion
Novice - Isabelle is English Champion; Katie came 2nd
Walk pairs - Charlotte and Sheri-Anne came 2nd
Walk individual - Chloe is English Champion (under 9), Vivi came 2nd (under 9)
Para walk individual - me!
Team Cambridge say...bring on the British!