My pupils will be right there with me, says Paralympian
When PE teacher Emma Wiggs begins her bid for Paralympic glory next week, her pupils will be right behind her. As she takes to the sitting volleyball court, a handful of students will be acting as volunteers, chasing stray balls and mopping up sweat.
It may not be the most glamorous of tasks, but Ms Wiggs' route to London 2012 has inspired those she used to teach. They cannot wait to see her take on other nations in front of a worldwide TV audience, she told TES.
Ms Wiggs only took up the sport in 2010 after impressing at a Paralympic talent-spotting day run by the British Paralympic Association. Since then she has embraced the game and introduced the fast-moving sport to able-bodied pupils at the Regis School in Bognor Regis, West Sussex.
The school was hugely supportive of her sporting ambitions, she said. "I know it sounds corny, but I really feel I have every pupil and member of staff with me. I couldn't have done anything without the people around me. At school nothing was ever a problem. They met every situation and challenge with a solution."
Ms Wiggs' 30-hour-a-week training schedule first led to her going part time at the school; she eventually left in March this year to focus on the Paralympics full time. But she has maintained close links with the school and intends to return to the classroom when her sporting career is over.
She has been using a wheelchair since contracting a virus at the age of 18, but her pupils never labelled her sport as one for people with disabilities, she said. "The kids think it's brilliant; they don't see it as a disabled sport. The thing the kids really want to see is me doing a wheelie in the corridor."
Her only concern is that the pupils may be disappointed by the team's performance. While hopeful of a bronze medal, the GB team was only established in 2009 and views this year's Games as a stepping stone to success in Rio 2016.
"They think we are going to beat everyone. You have to sort of curb their enthusiasm without blowing their dreams," she said.
But the excitement surrounding Ms Wiggs is not just confined to Regis School: she has given talks to about 6,000 pupils in schools across the South East, raising the profile of sitting volleyball and Paralympic sport.
"I've had emails from parents saying: 'You are all my children are talking about around the dinner table.' But I still can't believe people are interested in me," she said.
Ms Wiggs is not the only teacher who will be competing at the Paralympics, which starts on Wednesday (29 August). For Year 6 teacher Sue Gilroy, a veteran wheelchair table tennis star, London will be her fourth Games.
The former Commonwealth champion from Barnsley has been playing the game since the age of 7 and was appointed MBE for her services to the sport. "The Paralympic Games is the pinnacle of sporting achievement, so there is nothing better than competing in your own country in front of a home crowd and your family," Ms Gilroy said.
- Ten men's teams and eight women's teams will compete from 30 August to 8 September.
- The Paralympic titleholders are Iran in the men's game and China in the women's game.
- Sitting volleyball began in the Netherlands in the 1950s as a combination of volleyball and a German game called sitzball.
- The sport is played in more than 50 countries.
- According to the rules of the game, one part of an athlete's body between the buttocks and shoulder must be in contact with the court whenever a shot, or an attempt at a shot, is made.