Over the course of the week the participants from 21 different nations evolved as sports people, sharing skills and learning new techniques. They developed as a collective force for good and left feeling empowered and resolute in their desire to succeed on and off the field of play. They found their voice, and through pictures, words and actions will champion change through the power of sport.

GAPS is Commonwealth Sport’s Para-sport, development and inclusion pathway programme, designed to provide Para-athletes and coaches with access to skills, knowledge, and resources that aid their personal development and training as they prepare for competition, while driving hope and motivation and building pride and a strong sense of identity amongst the Para-athletes and Coaches.

The Global GAPS Camp welcomed a mix of coaches and athletes to Birmingham University last weekend to participate in the sports of Para Powerlifting and Para Table Tennis. For some it was their first time in the UK for others it was the first time they had ever left their communities. For everyone it was a step into the unknown. However, within a day the participants from all four corners of the globe, regardless of language, had been able to connect, and bond through their mutual love of sport. Over the course of the week the barriers came down, the characters emerged, and friendships formed.

Previously I lacked interaction. GAPS has taught me how to interact with people
South African Para Table Tennis athlete Sthabile Mnyandu

Practical training sessions took place every day with a competition day hosted mid-week. For many it was their first competition providing the opportunity to compete against international Para-athletes of similar abilities. It was their chance to put their learnings into practice and show their potential.  

It was not just the athletes that acquired new skills. Coaches are the catalyst to success. The ones that support the growth of athletes, share their dreams and open doors to get them the support and training required to reach the stars. At GAPS, the coaches were also coached. UK Sport ran several sessions where they were able to share their expertise and provide advice and support. There was a great knowledge exchange between everyone with several younger UK coaches learning firsthand the nuances around training Para-athletes and their requirements while communicating their skills and learnings. For some, it was not their first experience of GAPS with a handful returning with new athletes having seen their potential. Their continued involvement is a testament to the value of GAPS Programme. 

Eric Hanfakaga the Fiji Para Powerlifting coach has been inspired by GAPS. "Before coming here I was like a blind man. I have taken things for granted. There is a lot more than what we perceive. This camp has put me in a situation where I will have to change my perspective on how I see things."

The camp was hosted by GAPS Partner, The University of Birmingham. The first-class facilities allowed the athletes to perform at the best. In additional a team of university students spent their week as volunteer support to the athletes and coaches, their enthusiasm and goodwill was invaluable to the success of the camp, with several reevaluated their careers after being exposure to GAPS. 

The Cultural evening has become something of a tradition at the GAPS camps. The evening event is a time to celebrate the diversity of each nation and for all attendees to learn a little about each other. Hosted in the beautiful Great Hall at the University, the attendees dressed in national costume and entertained and educated with song, dance and speech. 

Over the last four days of the camp, the athletes and coaches attended classroom sessions tailored specifically to help them find their ‘Athlete Voice’.  The programme, ‘Powered by Purpose’, run by The True Athlete Project in partnership with UK Sport, gives athletes the tools to play an active role in issues that they are passionate about and become advocates in their communities. Over the next nine months, the athletes will have the opportunity to learn from world experts and start their own social changemaker journey that will continue for years to come. This was a truly inspiring session where coaches and athletes spoke of their personal journeys over the week.

The only disability is a bad mindset!
Joan Nabasirye from Uganda

Para Table Tennis Athlete Joan Nabasirye from Uganda is determined to make a difference when she returns home. "Disabled people are hidden away and not encouraged to be motivated or believe they can play sport.  The only disability is a bad mindset! As an athlete and model, I want to inspire others through social media to communicate for others to learn to love themselves." 

Similarly, when speaking of the transition experienced at the camp, Tonga Para Table Tennis Athlete Luani  Moeakiola stated: "I only attended the training centre if someone took me there and I would train on my own. I lacked a sense of belonging and being part of a team. I now realise I can learn from other people and if I train with them I can see the difference. I feel empowered to take the training I have learnt back home. "

After 10 days, the 8o athletes and coaches departed with their hearts and minds full of excitement and aspirations for the future. The camp created a new support and friendship network of like-minded athletes and coaches who returned home with the chance to change their lives through the power of sport.