“So my goal has always been to just enjoy Boccia and go from there."
Boccia has given world champion Claire Taggart independence, a boyfriend and memories to last a lifetime.
But even more significantly, the Learne star believes it is stabilising her progressive condition.
The two-time Paralympian insisted it was a relief to be diagnosed with dystonia – a condition that causes joint contractions and muscle spasms all over her body – two and a half years after it started to affect her mobility.
Taggart met her current boyfriend and former boccia international, Scott McGowan, during lockdown, just one of a series of seminal life events stemming from the sport.
“For me, boccia has been truly life changing,” said Taggart. “When I was diagnosed with my disability, I didn’t know how to be independent, how to do anything for myself.
“I didn’t know that I would ever live on my own. I didn’t know that I would drive or have a boyfriend or any of these things.
“In a way, not that I’m grateful for my disability, but I wouldn’t have met the people I have without it.”
Taggart was told her dystonia was of a progressive nature, quickly ruling out potential pastimes like wheelchair rugby, but the decline halted five years ago.
“I would put that down to boccia mainly because I’m moving so much,” said Taggart. “I’m busy doing lots of different things and the physio I get is really good quality.
“I’m in the gym twice or three times a week. It’s really important for me to keep moving. I’d hate to see what my body would look like without boccia.”
Taggart is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing her to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for her pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.
She took the world title in December 2022, at the same Rio De Janeiro venue at which she made her Paralympic debut in 2016, when she became the first Paralympian from Northern Ireland to compete in boccia.
The reigning UK champion has an all-important European Championships to look forward to in August that could decide whether she gets another shot at a first Paralympic medal in Paris next year.
With the Paris 2024 Paralympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Taggart hopes that by sharing her story it will give others motivation to get involved in sport.
“I don’t like to set goals because I think I would worry about it too much and then if it didn’t happen it would come back to haunt me,” said Taggart.
“So my goal has always been to just enjoy Boccia and go from there.
“Winning the World Championships was a whirlwind but the final was stressful.
“But what really helps me now is I’m able to have my dad on court as the coach and just looking up and seeing my dad calm, then I can be calm.
“It was a really strange feeling because we came so close to a team gold, but it fills us with confidence ahead of Paris.”
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