On Saturday 4 November, Sevenoaks Rugby 1st XV got the better of their north Kent friends from Gravesend, chalking up a 26-9 win at Knole Paddock. The home win puts Oaks in 6th place in the London 1 South, but the weekend was also notable for other reasons.
Club member Roger Alwen, who was on the 2012 Olympic Advisory Board, and former RFU President Robert Horner, also an Oaks member, had brought to the club’s attention the plight of GB Wheelchair Rugby which lost all of its UK Sport funding last December. Together, with President Mike Woodridge and Oaks’ members Chris Birch, Andy Nicholls and Steve Fitzmaurice they decided that Sevenoaks would take the lead and put together a weekend of fundraising activities to support GBWR on the road to Tokyo 2020. And what a weekend it turned out to be!
The club was packed for a lunchtime event where more than 100 guests, members, supporters, family, and friends were proud to listen in as GBWR Chief Executive, David Pond talked about how the Oaks were at the forefront of the rugby community in supporting GBWR towards its goal of getting the team to the Paralympic Games in 2020.
David was followed by GB Captain Chris Ryan, who spoke movingly about his journey from being one of the most talented young golfers in the country to suffering paralysis after a car accident which changed his life but brought him to wheelchair rugby. Chris is now the proud Captain of GBWR, which won the European Championships in the summer.
The glorious weather on Sunday was just perfect to showcase wheelchair rugby. The club laid a wooden floor on the 1st XV pitch in front of the Bradshaw-Pearl balcony and GB players Chris Ryan, Johnny Coggan, and Ollie Mangion, supported by Team Manager Lee Stutley and Head of Youth Stuart Mclindon, introduced wheelchair rugby to 100’s of Oaks Juniors as the minis upwards took it in turns to enjoy and watch Wheelchair Rugby at first hand. It was a hugely popular activity with all the players wanting to get into a chair and crash into their opponents. The GB athletes also answered questions on the sport and on their own journeys.
The amazing occasion provided a unique opportunity for the juniors to become aware that being disabled does not have to mean that you cannot still strive to be the very best at something and that with the right mindset, it is possible to overcome the most challenging of circumstances.
The total of all the various fundraising initiatives across the weekend resulted in more than £7,000 being raised for GBWR.
David Pond commented: “The Oaks could not have done more to make us feel part of their club this weekend. I am hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed towards this amazing sum, which will be used to fund two training camps in 2018 as part of our preparation for the World Championships. It was fantastic to see the fun the juniors had playing the game on Sunday and the way they questioned and listened to the GB players – this is community rugby at its very best.”