Meet the Dundee Dragons
03 September 2019 | Scotland
Wheelchair sports club is for everyone, from beginners to potential Paralympians.
When Dr Elizabeth Ferris was a medical student in her early 20s, her life changed forever.
In her second year of medical school in Dundee, she was diagnosed with Vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. Coupled with blindness in one eye, the inflammation then struck her spine. She was forced to take three years out from her studies and had to use a wheelchair.
During her rehabilitation back home in Ireland, she was introduced to wheelchair rugby, and when she returned to Dundee, she was disappointed to find there were no disability team sports in the city. She decided to set up her own club and formed the Dundee Dragons in 2013. Since then the charity has gone from strength to strength.
Dundee Dragons is a multi-sports club for active wheelchair users of all ages and abilities. As well as rugby, the club now offers basketball, tennis, badminton and curling.
Kevin Rattray, a former rugby union coach and now club coordinator, says: “Elizabeth is exceptional and so inspirational. To do what she has after what she went through, is amazing.
“She managed to complete her doctorate and now still very much battles for the rights of wheelchair users.
“We are a very inclusive club, with a huge range of disabilities. Our youngest is seven and the eldest is in their late fifties and it is absolutely fantastic that some of our members have qualified to play for Team GB and for the Scottish national team. But that is not the most important thing we do. The most important thing is that we have a facility for adults and young people who have been socially isolated all their lives but now have somewhere that they can be physically active. If you speak to them, they will tell you themselves how it has changed their lives.”
Kevin adds: “What we do here is not just sport, it genuinely changes lives and impacts in all other areas in changing their attitude to what they can achieve from life.”
One person the club has helped, is Gemma Lumsdaine. Born 12 weeks prematurely, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a young child. The condition, which meant she had to use a wheelchair, left her with low self-esteem and struggling to fit in with her peers.
However an introduction to sport through Dundee Dragons changed everything, and since her first visit she has never looked back. Now, alongside playing sport at an international level, Gemma also coaches other youngsters at the club.
“Before Dragons, I didn’t have a lot of ambition and didn’t see myself fitting in at school,” says Gemma. “I was the only one in a wheelchair and I really struggled to accept myself.
“I saw my disability as a negative thing. Through time and seeing other wheelchair users, seeing what was possible for them and how independent they could be was an inspiration.
“I developed my skills and got more involved. Last year I was selected for the GB Development Squad for wheelchair rugby. They can help you progress to the Paralympic squad one day.
“Sport has really given me something to aim towards and I am now even employed by the Dragons to help others. So it has not just given me opportunities on the court but off the court which is invaluable really. It has changed my life.”