I would be scared to see what things might have looked like for me now if I hadn’t started playing boccia six years ago.

Luckily, I’m the sort of person that likes to keep busy – I don’t like to dwell on things. Boccia has given me the opportunity to be a busy, independent person, and I thrive on that.

In boccia, a lot of emphasis is placed on the physical side of things, such as strength and conditioning. When I play, I am constantly moving – so, aside from the fact I just love the sport and I love competing, I know there have been many other benefits – both mentally and physically - to me playing as well.

Claire at Rio 2016

My condition – dystonia – means that the longer your muscles stay in one position, the more chance there is that they contract and spasm. So the more I can move my hands, fingers and arms about, the better. If it wasn’t for boccia, I do think my disability would have been more severe.

It’s not just boccia and looking after my dog Rio (yes, she came in to my life in 2016) that keeps me busy and active though. Everyone knows a self-confessed stationery addict, and I’d be the first to admit that I’m one myself.

I started a small business a couple of years ago designing, making and selling stationery from home – from notebooks to stickers, greetings cards and weekly planners. It’s something different from boccia and I can work on it while I’m away from home at camps or competing too.

"Everyone knows a self-confessed stationery addict"

For me, it’s important to have something to occupy my mind and my time away from the boccia court. All I need is my iPad and my iPad pencil to make my designs, then I do all the production, packing and posting when I return. The business, Nifty Notebooks NI, has taken over my house. There are printers and machines everywhere and I have orders worldwide, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then there’s the voluntary work I do with our local football club in Northern Ireland, Larne FC. I was really proud and pleased when the club asked me to be their Disability Access Officer. It’s an opportunity to champion access for all – from wheelchair spaces in the stands, to ear defenders for people with sensory impairments – and that’s something I’m very passionate about.

I want to make Larne the most accessible football club in Northern Ireland; for everyone to feel welcome, part of the crowd, and a valued member of the community. I may not have been a football fan before, but I’d like to think I am now.

Now the whole town has got behind the momentum and there is a real sense of community, which is very important to me. My next challenge is to make every shop in the town accessible, but that’s something for after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – for now, boccia comes first.

While lockdown has meant life in many respects has been quieter – no travelling to boccia camps and competitions, for example - I’ve embraced the life I’ve had at home with Rio over the last year. My business has taken off and I’ve kept myself busy; now I’m ready to find out what the rest of the year holds.

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