“It’s about stretching yourself beyond your disabilities”

I spoke to Alastair, a Henshaws volunteer who runs a triathlon club to support our service users to get involved in sport. As the team prepared to compete in the Harrogate Triathlon at Ashville College, Alastair reflects on their challenges so far…


“I’ve been volunteering with Henshaws now for just over a year. It was my idea to set up the Henshaws Triathlon Team to get people who use Henshaws services involved in real competitions.

They’ve completed two triathlons now, working as a team to do different elements of the event which includes a swim, cycle and run. It’s been an amazing journey but I have to say the whole experience has been more challenging than I expected!

If you’re training people who can see, then you demonstrate the exercises and they can copy you. But when every member of the team has a visual impairment and/or other disabilities it means I have to be very specific when I give instructions.

So if I ask everyone to stretch an arm out then they need to know if it’s stretched out straight in front or to the side, pulled behind the head or bent at the elbow. It’s different for every person so I will explain really clearly which muscles we’re working and sometimes help people move into different positions.

Image of two of the triathlon team peddling on a bike

Most of the team live in houses run by Henshaws Housing & Support Service in the community. The House Managers say that when they arrive back at the houses after a training session they are absolutely buzzing because the adrenalin has kicked in and they’re on a high from what they’ve achieved. That has to be my main satisfaction – seeing the team enjoy exercising and doing something new. Many of them weren’t used to physically pushing themselves before and that’s something I’ve been very keen to get them to do. It’s all about discovering that extra thing you can do and stretching yourself beyond your disabilities.

We’ve changed the format so we’re now running the new Henshaws Tri Sports Club. There’s going to be more emphasis on general training and fitness, without always needing the competitive element at the end of it. We’re trying to get more people outdoors and enjoying getting fitter as it has so many all-round benefits. A big part of this is getting more volunteers on board to support members of the team on a one to one basis. It could involve going for a run, working with the gym equipment, or tandem cycling just for a few examples.  I hope people will find that it’s a great way to get fit themselves whilst also helping to motivate the person they are working with.

Image of the full triathlon team wearing their Henshaws t-shirts

I was lucky enough to be recognised with a Volunteering Oscar Award for the work I’ve done with the triathlon team. There was a wonderful ceremony which brought together volunteers from all sorts of charities and voluntary groups. I sometimes can’t believe we’ve only been doing this for a year. I really am proud of everything we’ve achieved in such a short space of time.”

Fancy taking on a challenge like our fantastic triathlon team? Why not take part in this year’s Skipton Triathlon and join Team Henshaws! Find out more on our Triathlon events page.

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