Updated: May 16
Hello again everyone!!! We are very pleased to introduce our fourth neurodivergent sportsperson - Patrick Chorley.
Patrick is a rower, coxswain, and climber, and he has at various points in his life been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.
I’m really pleased to have met Patrick for a number of reasons; firstly, it’s been really hard to identify athletes or sportspeople with dyspraxia (beyond my husband – and it seems a bit despotic to write about him so early on); secondly, I learnt an awful lot from Patrick about dyslexia and dyspraxia in particular; and thirdly he’s decided to come on board and join our research group! Yay!!!
Patrick is a 22-year-old Human Geography graduate from Durham University, who currently lives with his parents in London, and is both a member of Furnival Rowing Club and a keen climber.
Patrick’s earliest interaction with exercise was arguably his constant fidgeting as a result of his ADHD! But his first interaction with sport was when his mother introduced him to gymnastics and trampolining. She hoped these activities would help dispel some of Patrick’s extra energy, and allow him to focus more when at school, and she also hoped it would help combat his “poor muscle tone” which was a result of his dyspraxia (his words – not mine). It’s no surprise that Patrick especially loved trampolining – I mean, who doesn’t!? But unfortunately, he lost touch with both sports when his family relocated to a new area.
However, after being inspired by watching the rowing at the London 2012 Olympics (that sounds familiar), Patrick joined his local rowing club Barn Elms. He described the sense of “freedom” he felt when rowing and coxing, much like the freedom he felt when he was trampolining. Both sports require you to put energy into them, but they also give it back and almost allow you to ‘freewheel’, either in the air or through the water. I can imagine that having a condition such as dyspraxia affecting your fine motor skills, would make this sense of freedom even more exhilarating and uplifting.
When talking about rowing Patrick spoke about being able to “leave everything on the land and have fun on the water regardless of how good the session is”, which is something that attracted me to rowing when I was younger too. When pushing away from the landing stage, you can push away from your troubles and leave them on the bank, which if you are struggling at school due to your neurodivergence can be an incredible relief. Patrick also mentioned the club being a huge leveller with people of all ages and walks of life ending up in the same boat together both metaphorically and literally. Again, an extremely liberating experience for someone struggling elsewhere.
But Patrick’s neurodivergence hasn’t just been a struggle, it is also responsible for some of his strongest characteristics. When Patrick pursued sport in his own time and in his own way, only then was he able to truly understand and optimise his strengths. For instance, Patrick found he had a particular talent for coxing – and not just because of his small stature (sorry Patrick), but because of his ability to think in 3D. Having educated myself on all thing’s neurodiversity, I’m fairly familiar with different ways of thinking and processing, and I myself think in pictures and not words, but Patrick added a further layer to this concept that blew my mind a little. He described his experiences of coxing on the river and how he would almost see the stream interacting with the boat, the boat with the blades, the blades with the water and the water with the rudder. He also spoke about seeing the hand and foot holds when climbing, which is an image I found a VERY cool: I’m thinking Metal Gear Solid style 3D (look it up, it’s a great game).
Patrick’s experience of sport at university was initially much the same as his experience at school. He didn’t like PE, he didn’t get along in large, structured sports teams, and when he tried out for the University of Durham Rowing Team, he was told he would “never cut it as an athlete”. But unlike at school where he sought an external alternative, at university he created one. In his third year he was elected president of his college boat club and described the ethos he created as one of inclusion, where people who may have faced rejection elsewhere, or who didn’t ‘fit the mould’ could go to be accepted no matter what – all they needed was a desire to do sport. To me, it seems a shame that Patrick had to create a space like this that was separate to the main team, but for now I guess it’s better than nothing!
In talking to Patrick for just over an hour, letting him explain himself in his own way, and trying to understand his unique experiences, drivers, and strengths, I could clearly see what an asset he would be to any team. I jumped at the opportunity to have him onboard when he offered his expertise to our CIC. Yet he faced so much rejection in his past. Even when he was leading an inclusive programme at his university college, he found himself apologising for the difficulties he experienced as a result of his dyslexia. From what I’ve experienced and observed, the people who sit on the fringes and need more understanding and support are in fact the ones who reach out the most, but whose pleas fall on deaf ears – perhaps due to a difference in communication, but also, In my opinion due to a lack of receptiveness... I understand that the fast-paced world we live in doesn’t lend itself to taking time to get to know and understand each other, but there’s so much to be gained from it.
My solution? Well, I don’t have the perfect solution yet, but I believe it starts with more people being more receptive. Yes, it might take time and effort at first, but once the realisation is made that some people are different but worth getting to know, it gets a hell of a lot easier from thereon in. There is the saying that “if you’ve met one neurodivergent person, you’ve met one neurodivergent person”, and I do agree with that, but in meeting and trying to understand one neurodivergent person, you’re gaining skills and awareness that will carry over to the next. AND trust me, it’s really worth it! Neurodivergent people aren’t always what you would expect but isn’t that what makes life interesting!?!?