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Caving with Cerebral Palsy

Article from Josh White in Youth and Development

In a recent conversation with Badger, we were recalling some of our favourite memories as Scout Cave Leaders, and one that stood out for him was a young lad called Jamie. If you’re inspired by the following story and want to be able to contribute to these kinds of experiences through scout caving, please contact Paul Wilman or me at .

Jamie was a 12 year old scout who having been born 10 weeks early was diagnosed with Cerebral palsy. For Jamie this meant that just a few years before his first caving trip with West Sussex caving team he was a full-time wheelchair user due to the pain from the tightness in his muscles. He had since had an operation called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy which would help eradicate his spasticity which thankfully, alongside a gruelling daily physio regime allowed him to walk, albeit with lots of assistance and a set of elbow crutches.

After a presentation to his scout group, who regularly came away for trips with the caving team, Jamie expressed a desire to come away for a weekend. Scouting is all about inclusivity, and there was no chance any of the team was going to say no to anybody wanting to try caving, but even Badger would admit there was some apprehension about the logistics of a trip for Jamie. The first stage was to find out from Jamie’s parents exactly what he would be able to do, and the team used this opportunity to reassure them that he would be in safe hands. 

Badger was one of a small team of leaders that were chosen from a big pool of willing volunteers within the caving team to help Jamie achieve getting underground. As with so many young people’s first caving experience in the Mendips, Goatchurch was the chosen location.
Considerations needed to be made such as, without his crutches, how would Jamie maintain mobility and stability, and how well would he be able to get to the entrance. The first of these considerations was solved through the use of a full body harness and a sling, to allow support to be provided through the passage by the leaders. The second of these ended up being overcome by a piggy back for short set of steps up to the entrance.

The plan was clear, in via the old show cave entrance, down the giant stairs, along and out via the tradesmen’s entrance. However, encouraged, and clearly comfortable in the leadership of the Scout leader teams Jamie was able to get all the way down to the water chamber and back out again. An exhausted but beaming Jamie emerged from the cave before returning with his scout leaders to the minibus to return to the accommodation in Wells.

To those who didn’t know Jamie, there was perhaps an expectation that he wouldn’t cave the following day, however enthused by the trip the previous day, he couldn’t wait to get going. A bit of rearranging of leaders, and a trip was planned to get Jamie in the short dry way and back out the wet way.

Again Jamie’s energy forced a change of plans, extending the trip to get as far as the top of the 20ft pitch, with some leaders imaginations already running wild for the following year. An all round superb weekend with Cave Leaders, Scout Leaders and Jamie (plus the rest of the scouts) all left excited after a superb weekend.

Roll on the following year and with water levels sufficiently, a plan is hatched to tackle the previous year’s obstacle with a tyrollean style abseil. Like a bat out of, well, a cave, Jamie raced across the field to the blockhouse entrance, pre-kitted up in a full body harness and sling.

Part of the team had gone ahead and had managed to get just far enough ahead of Jamie to rig the tyrollean to help keep him out of the splash on the abseil. Jamie’s continued enthusiasm resulted in boundaries, yet again, being pushed, resulting in getting all the way to the double pots, before retreating back up and out of the cave via the tyrolean. An exhausted, damp and starting to chill Jamie was piggy-backed back across the field.

Speaking to Badger, I can hear the pride in his voice not only about the caving team’s achievement but mostly at what a fantastic young man Jamie was. He describes it as a privilege to be able to welcome such a willing young man into our strange sport.

2 replies on “Caving with Cerebral Palsy”

This was an amazing weekend, all the scouts were so supportive not just of Jamie but of each other and major credit to the scout leaders who instill this ethos as well as to Badger and the rest of the Caving team

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