Once upon a ball... Gareth Stafford plays for the Greenbank Giants in Liverpool and the Welsh national boccia team. His mum, Gill, tells us about his boccia journey so far and his experiences during lockdown... Gareth’s involvement in boccia goes back to one lunchtime in mainstream comprehensive school when Wrexham’s Disability Sport Wales Officer taught the few physically disabled pupils how to play boccia. His first Teams competition quickly followed where I, as second responsible adult, helped Gareth to play. Gareth’s interest had been sparked and sports officers spent many hours coaching him. During college, he played for his Wrexham college team and was chosen to play for North Wales Six Counties in a Pembrokeshire competition. Gareth gained Silver in both the Team and Individual competition. At University in Wrexham, Gareth was given a sports scholarship for the latter two years of his degree course. Invited to join the newly formed Boccia Wales squad, Gareth represented Wales at the DSE heat at Greenbank. After finding out there were boccia clubs, Gareth joined the Stockport Boccia Club where he worked his way up the teams and played for Stockport in the newly formed Super League after being in the winning team in the Community League for some years. Moving to the North Wales coast, he transferred to the newly formed Greenbank Giants Boccia Club in Liverpool, still a 120-mile round trip but nearer than Stockport. He played in the first team, winning the National League in the club’s first year and now plays in the Super League once more. Gareth has continued to represent Wales in competitions and has played for San Frontiers Boccia Club taking Silver in both Poland and the Czech Republic. He has gained many trophies, playing for both his Clubs and for Wales. He had to make the difficult decision whether to remain a Welsh player of join the English squad when he was offered a place in it but, being brought up Welsh (he has dual nationality) and never having lived in England, he stayed with Wales. As well as playing, Gareth has demonstrated boccia many times, notably beating Ken Skates, Welsh Senedd Minister, at a demonstration held for the North Wales Health Board. He took part in a televised S4C game against a Welsh soap star – refereed in Welsh. Even though we couldn’t understand a word, we knew that Gareth won! He assists at Taster sessions and has inspired several local groups to offer boccia to their members. Prior to the Boccia World Cup held in Liverpool, Gareth played in demonstration games in such diverse settings as Liverpool Lime Street Railway Station, shopping centres and on a pontoon moored in Liverpool docklands. He was invited to lead a team into the arena at the closing ceremony of the World Cup with his Welsh flag fastened to the front of his wheelchair. He was surprised when, as we were leaving afterwards, the Chair of BISFed stopped him and had a chat about Wales! This year has proved difficult, as it has for everyone. Gareth’s not seen his boccia friends since March but playing in both The Rainbow Cup and The Rainbow Red has helped keep his enthusiasm for the game intact. He does not just complete the weekly exercises but decides on targets, what to use and where to place them, then calibrates his ramp with a long practise before completing the weekly competition. Taking part in The Rainbow Cup has given a focus to the week; Wednesday is Boccia Competition Day! The more challenging the exercise, the more he enjoys it! The sports officer, Michelle Daltry, who went into Gareth’s school one lunchtime 20 years ago, changed the course of a schoolboy's life!