Man with Down syndrome ‘living his dream’ thanks to rugby league

A man with Down syndrome is ‘living his dream’ through rugby league for people with learning disabilities.

Organized by the Rugby Football League, Super League and Widnes-based charity Community Integrated Care, the Learning Disability Rugby League “gives people with learning disabilities and autism the chance to play a specially adapted from rugby league”, allowing more than 200 people to play for the clubs they love, such as St Helens RFC and Warrington Wolves.

An image of 19-year-old Gareth Jones celebrating a try in front of almost 4,000 people during a match between Leigh Centurions and Widnes Vikings has sparked praise for the league. Ste Jones, no relation, who took the photo, tweeted: “I’m choking behind the camera watching the stars of LDRL play The Big Game. It’s just pure bliss from start to finish. ”

Gareth’s older brother Bob, who lives in Wavertree, is happy to see people with Down syndrome and other learning disabilities have the opportunity to play rugby on condensed pitches to meet player needs , and with a non-competitive focus on developing skills rather than keeping score. The 25-year-old University of Liverpool graduate said: “He’s basically living the dream any teenager would want. He’s living his life the way he wants to and he’s achieving his goals. He loves it, and I’m just the proudest brother that can be.”

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Bob added: “Everyone just wants to see their family succeed and get the most out of life, and there are obviously concerns about that when it comes to having family members with disabilities, because “It’s very easy for society to not be inclusive. With this now, this opportunity, it shows tremendous growth in sport, culture and society as a whole.”

Gareth’s “development has taken leaps and bounds” thanks to inclusive spaces like the Learning Disability Super League and its coach Scott Burns. These new opportunities make Gareth feel valued, boost his self-esteem, help him make new friends, and allow him to further develop skills such as teamwork.

The prospect of playing for Leigh Centurions in front of such a large crowd at Widnes on Good Friday made Gareth nervous, but a video call with Bob before the game calmed him down and he ran onto the pitch with ‘all worries aside. as his confidence grew during the game. He “loves the crowd and the praise”, relishing the atmosphere as he runs around shaking hands after a game.

Gareth Jones (left), 19, and his brother Bob, 25, at Lime Street Station

Bob wants to encourage others with learning disabilities to get involved in sport, saying it’s a “fantastic” way to meet new friends and learn new skills. He told ECHO: “Having a disability, whether it’s Down syndrome, autism, whatever, doesn’t mean that person can’t do the same things as anybody else.

“What’s needed is to make those adjustments and make those changes, because there are a lot of people with disabilities who can do fantastic things. But the means to be able to do that aren’t there because it’s not not made accessible.”

John Hughes, Director of Partnerships and Communities at Community Integrated Care, said: “The Community Integrated Care Learning Disabilities Super League is an incredible platform to showcase the talents of people with learning disabilities. and autism, and to fight prejudice.

“Everyone who has seen and shared Gareth’s photo will have been lifted by his talents and his passion for the sport he loves. We would like to congratulate Gareth on living his dreams of scoring for the team he loves. . to St Jones, whose wonderful image will inspire many more people to follow in Gareth’s footsteps.”

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