The Regatta for the Disabled made a triumphant return to the riverbank last Saturday after a three year hiatus. Having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Regatta for the Disabled (R4D) was back better than ever with a bunch of activities and entertainment, including bell boat racing, craft workshops, and river trips.
The Regatta for the Disabled, which takes place in the grounds of Phyllis Court Club, offers a fun filled day on and by the River Thames for those with disabilities and their friends and families. The event creates a safe environment for disabled people to enjoy the river, this year running free cruises on the wheelchair adapted ‘Rivertime’, along with trips on two 12 seater motorboats. The regatta also offered a number of land based activities, including circus skills, an accessible climbing wall, animal petting, story telling and crafts. There was live music from Sam Brown’s Fabulous Ukulele Club and band Touch Wood, along with enough delicious food to keep everyone’s energies high.
A highlight of the Regatta for the Disabled is always the hotly contested bell boat racing. Crews begin with two heats, with the fastest progressing to the quarters, semis, and the final. This year, the battle was won by ‘Usain Boat’, who were competing in the event for the fourth time. Anthony Howe, one of the ‘Usain Boat’ crew, joked before the racing, “Today is about revenge. As the previous back to back champions we’re seeking out our third, which was unjustly taken from us in 2019 by the bird-in-hand, who we expect committed foul play. Nevertheless, we’re leaving everything out on the water today.” As well as taking the title for the fastest boat, the team could also have won a prize for their outfits, with all of them dressing in some kind of costume.
Mum Davina, along with partner Chris and daughter Amelie, was at the regatta to cheer on her 10 year old son, Harry, in the bell boat racing. The family have been many times before with their disabled son, George, who was unfortunately at respite on Saturday. Davina said, “I used to race in it, and Harry was too young to race. This is the first year he has been old enough to race so he’s very excited that he is old enough to join in.”
Speaking about the importance of the event, Davina said, “It’s just lovely to have something that, normally, George can enjoy, because there’s not many things for him to enjoy. It’s nice to have an activity that is centred around children with extra needs: it’s more suitable for them, it has the Mobiloo for their care needs, it’s got space, it’s not too crowded, and people understand if you have a child that has a bit of a meltdown or anything like that. People understand so you can feel safe and comfortable, and we love the river and the boating side of it as well, it’s really fun. It’s a good family day out and everybody’s got something. Amelie has been doing some jewellery making already. There’s something for everyone.”
The Regatta for the Disabled first took place in 2010, and has since grown to be a staple of the Henley summer calendar. Gordon Edwards, a member of the Regatta for the Disabled committee and crew for the Rivertime Boat Trust, said, “It’s amazing for disabled people to get trips on the river and do things they couldn’t normally do. Even on Rivertime, which we do every week, we take disabled people out and it’s a fun experience for the two hours of the trip. Normally they’re stuck in their homes, and out on the river it’s beautiful.”
Gordon continued, “Here we’ve got climbing walls with ability for disabled people to use them. We’ve got all sorts of things going on, both land based and water based activities. It’s a great event. It takes the whole year to plan; we start at the beginning of the year. It’s fantastic to be back. Lovely weather, a good crowd, a lot going on on the river — it’s brilliant.”
The Regatta for the Disabled was made possible by its sponsors and supporters, along with the work of its committee. R4D will return in 2023, so there’s plenty of time to get training for the bell boating competition!