By Karen Stallings, Bridge II Sports Athlete

I have been preparing all year for Boccia Nationals practicing with my Bridge II Sports team weekly- the Boccia Flamethrowers.  I was able to get a grant as well through the Challenged Athletes Foundation to assist with travel expenses to attend Nationals this year.

The wait was final over as my husband Kenny and I traveled to the USA Boccia Nationals July 5-9, 2017 in Naperville, Illinois- right outside Chicago! It took us one and a half days to travel by car and we arrived at the motel on July 4 around lunch time. We had the day to enjoy ourselves and get settled in. We celebrated the Fourth of July that night by going out to eat and seeing fireworks all around our motel– it was so awesome!  Deja (one of my Bridge II Sports Boccia Flamethrowers teammates), her parents and Coach Rachel from Bridge II Sports also attended Boccia Nationals.

Wednesday July 5: Registration, Equipment Check-In and Classification Day

There were about 295 individuals, including coaches, parents, personal attendants, husbands, wives, time keepers, referees, and USA board members, and 95 athletes playing in the tournament from all over the country.

In Boccia, players are given a Boccia Classification (BC) of 1 through 5 for competition.  A higher classification means more strength and upper body mobility—everybody plays Boccia from a chair.

In 2015 I was classified as a BC2 because of my Cerebral Palsy and not enough strength in my upper body.  However, when I was reclassified in 2016, I was classified as a BC5 because I had gained strength in my upper body. I could reach the floor and raise myself. I was able to roll the Boccia balls long, medium and short. When I was reclassified this year, I still had the same strength in my upper body and could throw with both hands. I was classified as a BC5 again.  I am a BC5 from now on- once athletes get classified twice, they will be classified in the group for good.

Thursday July 6: Individual Competition Day

Boccia can be played on teams or individually. Thursday was Individual Competition Day.  Opening ceremonies began at 8:45am and then it was time to compete!
I lost all of my individual games although I almost won one controversial game.  I felt like the referee gave my opponent my points, but I did not win the challenge.  I was proud of my efforts on the court though.

Friday July 7: Team Competition Day

At Boccia Nationals competitors are paired with other players from around the country for the pairs and team competitions.

My team won our first game as I made the winning shot to put our team ahead. I made a couple of good blocks during the games as well.  We won two games overall and placed 4th.  Deja did well also winning one game and one team game!

On Friday night the USA Boccia Board held their annual meeting. They introduced the board members and discussed what they are planning to do in the near future.  Although the board has professionals they also have two athletes involved and several committees that people could join. Kenny and I signed up for the Competition Committee again and Coach Rachel from BIIS signed up for the Youth Committee.

Saturday/Sunday July 8-9: Finals and Awards

On Saturday July 8th the semi-finals were held and then on Sunday was the team championship. The competition ended around 3pm and awards were presented to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each division.
Time to head back home!

I had an incredible experience at Boccia Nationals. Naperville was a great place to visit and have the tournament this year. It reminded me of Raleigh, North Carolina. The individuals who live there are polite, respectful, helpful and kind to others especially to individuals with disabilities. Some individuals will stare to be curious, but they aren’t rude about staring at individuals with disabilities. The food was excellent! I really hope that Nationals will be in Naperville again in 2018 or… better yet in North Carolina??!!!

Thank you to Bridge II Sports and all of their supporters for helping keep programs like Boccia alive so everyone can discover their passion and become an athlete.

Karen Stallings is a long time Bridge II Sports athlete and Boccia enthusiast.  She is also the host of Speak Up, Speak Out Raleigh a monthly public access television program that focuses on disability issues and programs in the Triangle.