29 April 2020

Para athletes helping contribute to national effort in COVID-19 fight

After shining a light on the inspirational ParalympicsGB doctors and nurses playing a vital role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, we also wanted to tell the stories of the Para sport athletes who are helping battle the virus on the frontline.

With the Tokyo Paralympic Games postponed until 2021, it isn’t just our medical workers who are contributing to the national effort, with elite-level athletes also turning their attention to tackling the current situation.

And two athletes who are playing important roles are Taekwondo’s Matt Bush and Goalball’s Sarah Leiter, who have been working tirelessly in their hometowns of St Clears, in Carmarthenshire and Cambridge, to help contribute to the fight against the pandemic.

Matt has exchanged training for Tokyo 2020 with helping combat the pandemic, working for his family business in Wales where he helps transport food supplies to local shops.

The business has been at the heart of the Bush family for three generations and is based in the town of St Clears, Carmarthenshire, where Matt is currently working round the clock to ensure supplies remain stocked up across South West Wales.

Matt has been working tirelessly at his family's business back home in Wales

And with the nation still in lockdown and families looking to support local produce, the 31-year-old says there is plenty to keep him and his family busy.

“It’s just a small food business who provide staples like eggs, butter and cheese, mainly to corner shops and local family shops,” Matt said.

“I try to fit working for the business in around my training normally, but now I’m not able to train I wanted to make sure I was doing something to help combat the current situation.

“The business has become very busy as a lot of people are buying from these local stores, so I’ve been working five days a week to make sure no shelves go unstocked.

“We’re not saving lives and we’re just providing food, but I just feel like it’s nice to know that you’re doing something to help and contribute, no matter how small it is.”

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It’s nice to know that you’re doing something to help and contribute, no matter how small it is.

Matt Bush

Matt has been balancing his business commitments alongside maintaining a strict training regime, as he vies to build on his success of becoming the first British male world champion at last year’s Para Taekwondo World Championships in Antalya, Turkey.

And while the Tokyo Paralympics may have been pushed back to next summer, he merely views the postponement as an additional opportunity to improve.

“I think a lot of athletes are using the current period as a time to maintain their level of fitness, but I’m still pushing forward,” he added.

“I’ve reassessed my goals and I feel like I was relatively well-prepared to adapt to a big change like this, so the current situation hasn’t affected me too much.

Matt has been travelling all over South West Wales ensuring vital food supplies continue to be stocked up

“My target’s now a different date but I’m trying to improve everyday, and I don’t view it as a time off - it’s just more time to improve for me.”

Sarah moved to England from Germany at the age of 18 to study medicine at Cambridge University’s Newnham College, and has learned to balance her exploits on the goalball court alongside her studies over the past 11 years.

Now 29, Sarah continued at Cambridge to complete her PhD and currently works as a foundation trainee in the children’s cancer ward at the city’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

And in the current situation her role has become more vital than ever, with Sarah taking immense pride from her contribution and believing the NHS is united in its determination to beat COVID-19.

Sarah has been playing a crucial NHS role at Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital

“Everybody’s definitely staying upbeat and positive, and if you’re working in a role like mine you have to stay positive and have that sort of spirit,” she said.

“There is an atmosphere of people really pulling together and fighting as one - I’ve always been proud of my medical job, but at a point like this it highlights it to everybody else, as well as the diversity of the role.

“There are so many other people as well - all the nurses, our healthcare assistants and people in the care sector, and I think they’re all finally getting the recognition they deserve.”

The Clap for our Carers initiative has recently taken the country by storm, with families gathering outside their homes every Thursday to show their appreciation for the invaluable work of the NHS.

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There is an atmosphere of people really pulling together and fighting as one - I’ve always been proud of my medical job, but at a point like this it highlights it to everybody else.

Sarah Leiter

And as Sarah bids to juggle her medical role with keeping in touch with her teammates, she admits the first time she witnessed the event almost brought a tear to her eye.

“The first Clap for our Carers was certainly very emotional for me, and I was close to crying when everybody suddenly started,” she added.

“I was walking back from the shop, and suddenly somebody had let off some fireworks, which seems to be a bit of a theme as they’ve reappeared since!

Sarah is working on the children's cancer ward and admits she was 'emotional' after the first Clap for our Carers

“People were standing outside clapping, and although they didn’t know that I worked in a hospital, it still felt quite personal for me.

“It’s so, so important that everybody follows the government’s advice about staying at home, protecting the NHS and saving lives, as it really is saving lives.

“In terms of goalball, we’ve got home programmes we’re doing at the moment and I’m trying to keep my strength and fitness up as much as I can - as soon as I’ve got access to a sports hall again I will be throwing that ball!”

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