Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT is determined to get more women and girls involved in wheelchair sports. They’re starting with the How I Roll campaign which was launched in September 2020 to international acclaim.

On the day that Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT filmed How I Roll, their new campaign, CEO Mick Garnett said the overwhelming feeling was “[we] want more girls and women to join this girl gang”.

“They’re just such good mates,” Garnett said of the athletes that feature in the campaign. “Very inclusive, very welcoming and warm. And that’s what I think is the most outstanding element is that if you knew a girl who was living with a disability, who hadn’t played sport before, you’d want them to be part of this group.”

At the centre of the campaign is the incredibly catchy song How I Roll, sung by Casey Donovan, and a music video featuring female wheelchair athletes. “I’m fast and I’m tough. I like to play rough. Yeah, that is How I Roll” Donovan sings as the athletes, aged from 9 to 38, dance along while watching images of women and girls playing wheelchair sports on a big screen.

How I Roll designed to light a fire

The How I Roll campaign was designed to ‘light a fire’ and to raise awareness of women and girls in wheelchair sports. But it’s also about helping create role models to encourage women and girls with disabilities to get involved with sport.

“[The campaign is] built on the premise that if she can see it, she can be it. So we thoroughly believe in that statement. We don’t have enough role models in wheelchair sports for girls and women to aspire to. Which is not to say that they aren’t there. We know they are, because we’ve been doing this since 1961. But the visibility of those role models is what we wanted to fix,” Garnett said.

“The whole impetus for this song came from observing the girls and women in wheelchair sport do their stuff. They rip into each other. And it is sport as sport should be which is played with an incredible fervor. No one gives each other an inch. There’s an aggression to it. There is skill to it. There’s all of the best parts of sport in it.”

Among the women and girls who appear in the video is two-time Paralympian and three-time Oz Day 10K Wheelchair Road Race winner Eliza Ault-Connell.

“Everyone needs someone to look up to,” Ault-Connell said. “In order for us to grow participation in wheelchair sport, we need to build more role models for girls and women with disabilities to know and love.”

“Role models in wheelchair sport can be Paralympians, but they certainly don’t have to be.”

“How I Roll recognises that being a role model is less about what you do, and far more about how you do it. The girls and women in wheelchair sport are fast and tough, they like to play rough, just like the song says.”

Also featured is Sarah Clifton-Bligh, a talented young athlete who is one of the world’s best wheelchair racers for her classification.

“She’s a name that I’m sure we will hear more of,” Garnett said of Clifton-Bligh.

Her Sports Her Way

Part of the motivation behind the campaign is the New South Wales Office of Sports Her Sport Her Way strategy. The strategy aims to look at sport through a female lens. By doing so, it aims to ensure that women and girls feel valued and recognised. And that they have equal opportunities and choices in sport.

“We fell in love with the strategy. It’s an incredibly well researched and structured piece of strategy to engage girls and women in sport. Participation, but also increasing the visibility of girls and women throughout both the sport themselves and also the administration, the officials, the referees,” Garnett said.

The Office of Sport provided funding for the How I Roll campaign which Garnett said Wheelchair Chair Sport NSW/ACT are assessing for its impact on the community. But they are already working on more ways to get women and girls involved in wheelchair sports. One of those ideas is a series of Her Sport festivals.  

“[They’re] specific events for girls and women to get involved in wheelchair sport. We had a very successful multi-sport night in November 2019 called the Her Sports Night. And we had 92 girls and women for this extraordinary experience of being invited in to play sport together,” Garnett explained.

Wheelchair Sport NSW/ACT have also held wheelchair basketball, lawn bowls and Aussie Rules Her Sports events. The organisation is confident that these events will encourage women and girls to get involved in wheelchair sports by creating entry points that welcome then in.

“They’ve been doing this for 10 years with wheelchair basketball. Every year they have an annual three day event where it’s just for girls and women. And they invite new people along, and it’s very much about that gentle and inviting and inclusive entry point. And some of the girls and women that have come along to that have gone on to represent Australia, and be very successful wheelchair basketballers as a result of this very important idea that we need to create a specific entry point for girls and women,” Garnett said.

Entry points for women and girls

Creating those specific entry points is the key to breaking down barriers to participation. The NSW Office of Sport Her Sport Her Way strategy identifies three of the main barriers to participation for women and girls: appearance, ability and priorities.

“Then you layer in to that in disability sport the overwhelming majority of our sport is done in a unisex format,” Garnett explains. “That’s a really big challenge. Because with the exception of the very high end of wheelchair basketball, virtually every sport within wheelchair sports is unisex. So all of those barriers are amplified. Because if you’re worried about appearance, you’re even more worried if there’s no option for you but to start in a unisex environment.”

“So that’s a really big additional barrier to wheelchair sports. So, if the AAP [appearance, ability and priorities] of sport hasn’t stopped you getting involved in wheelchair sport as a girl or woman, the additional barrier of them all largely being unisex as well means that we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that we invite girls and women into play our sports in a way that suits them.”

Learn more about the work Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT is doing via their website.

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