Supporting each other to grow through boccia Melissa Paulden tells us how supporting her daughter, England player Tia Ruel, to reach her sporting goals through boccia has given them both so much happiness and purpose. Being the mother of a child with a disability can be incredibly isolating at times. Your questions go unanswered, your social circles shrink, battles can outweigh moments of peace and with no real available guidance or leadership (in the early days, anyway) you have to just trust your instincts and hope that you’re doing ok on your own. Getting involved in a sport within a supportive organisation like Boccia England, however, can take away a lot of self doubt and loneliness, giving you back your confidence and welcoming you into a meaningful community. Helping my daughter, Tia, reach her sporting goals has given us so much happiness and purpose as a mother-daughter unit. Turning up to camps and competitions felt like our second home and our acceptance and our network grew. Our unit took on numbers and we became part of something very special, sharing experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime. We’ve gotten lost in Russia, saw tensions rise on court between nations in Slovakia, had powerchair- versus-cobbled-street hijinks in the Czech Republic and danced and ate haggis with wonderful hosts in Scotland. Through our ten or so years (so far) on the scene I have met the most incredible set of people who have helped shaped who I am today. They have given me advice and practical tips and hands-on-help, seen my ups and downs, witnessed my joy and stood side by side with Tia and I as we proudly waved our St George flags during ceremonies all over the UK and Europe. So many moments that have defined me as a person, as a mother. Another part of shaping who I am today is down to the boccia community inspiring Tia to become as independent as possible. I used to be her ‘on court assistant’ (similar to a golf caddy) which means that during matches I was behind her 1m x 2.5m box on court, passing balls and generally doing anything she needs (dishing out drinks, kicking wheels into line, dabbing her with a towel) it also meant that wherever she went, so did I: Sheffield, Nottingham and overseas, once she’d got selected for England. But after many years I got demoted to ‘just Mum’. During tense matches where it was nail-bitingly close I was too much of a distraction for this focused athlete. I thought she was the most magnificent thing on earth and I lived for every dynamic shot; she said I breathed too hard and I needed to go. So soon after that she hired a sports professional to assist her and together they travel whilst I stay at home. Having weekends to myself is very strange, but it’s a welcome change and a good one for Tia, too. Tia now trains five days a week and is committed to being the best that she can be, which means improving each day and aiming for the top. I am still in awe of that tiny little primary school girl who picked up a ball for the first time and smiled and I admire the strong, capable young woman she is today. She is dedicated, disciplined and shows such desire. Win or lose matches, I couldn’t be happier as a mum. This sport has helped shape who she is too, and I am so thankful. I am also thankful that she chose me to share part of her journey with her. When I look back across our years, I grew when she did; I made friends when she did; I experienced the people, the places, the emotions that she did; I came out of my comfort zone when she did. It’s taken me a while but I realise now that it wasn’t me who was guiding Tia’s hand all along - she was in fact guiding mine.