Instructors & Committee Members

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PAUL Reeves says Australia’s first special-needs judo club is giving children a fighting chance against bullies and low self-esteem.

Mr Reeves, a clinical nurse at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, had been doing judo for several years when in 2007 he visited special-needs clubs in the UK and decided Australia should have its own.

He started the Elizabeth Special Needs Judo Club with fellow coach Graham Anderson, and the club now boasts some of the state’s best sportspeople.

“There’s some kids who, because of their disability, have been bullied at school and had very low self-esteem, were socially isolated, didn’t really know how to join a club and interact,” the Gawler man said.

“Some of these kids, who were really shy and withdrawn, they learn confidence, they learn to speak to and trust people and they learn also to have fun with what they’re doing.”

Mr Reeves and Mr Anderson have been nominated for a Pride of Australia Medal in the Community Spirit category for their work with local youngsters.

The club, based at the Elizabeth RSL on Midway Rd, caters for children as young as five with various physical and intellectual disabilities, including autism.

Mr Graham said the key to the club’s success was playing to its members’ strengths.

“We (focus on) their abilities, not their disabilities,” the Parafield Gardens man said.

“We work on what they can do, not what they can’t.

“Obviously physical disabilities mean they can’t do certain things so we work around it.

“If someone can’t walk, obviously they can’t do throws so we concentrate on ground work, with the odd few throws that they probably can do from the ground, and we just modify it to suit the individual person.”

Club member Helen Allan, 17, said Mr Reeves and Mr Anderson had boosted her confidence.

The Elizabeth Park youngster, who started judo in 2009, is among five club members who will compete in the 2014 National Judo Championships in Hobart in October.

Helen said Mr Reeves, 48, and Mr Anderson, 51, were worthy nominees.

“They’re amazing coaches,” she said.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into the state team if it wasn’t for them and their hard training.”