Swish ball is a light in the dark

Admasu Akalewold and Margaret Wickham playing swish. 160542 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Casey Neill

A Dandenong gym and social session is offering fitness and fun for the blind and vision-impaired.
Dandenong Oasis is hosting a Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria gym and water aerobics program each Monday during school terms from 11am.
Margaret Wickham has been attending for three or four years.
“I wouldn’t go to gym on my own,” she said.
“We alternate between gym and the pool, so it makes it a lot more fun.
“Our gym program includes half an hour of boxing as well, which is great fun. We mix it up quite a bit.
“Our instructor is very encouraging.
“He doesn’t set big goals, he always comments on how good we’re doing.
“We just gradually step it up as time progresses.”
A BYO lunch and a game of swish follows the session.
“We can hear the ball, it has bottle caps in it,” Ms Wickham said.
“People can hear the ball.
“At least half the ones that play are totally blind. Some of us have some vision.
“You have to judge where the ball is to hit it by hearing where it is.
“We actually hit the ball under the wall in the middle of the table.”
There’s “no aerial stuff” involved, Ms Wickham laughed.
“It just goes along the top of the table,” she said.
“The good players are really fast.
“You need good reflexes and you really need quite good concentration.
“You tire quite quickly just because of the mental concentration needed, I think.
“As soon as you start day dreaming you’ve had it!”
Doveton’s Karren Martin also took up the program a few years ago.
“I actually used to play table tennis when I went to school,” she said.
“I thought, because I can’t play normal table tennis I’ll try the swish.”
She enjoys the competition and the people.
“We have a giggle and that,” she said.
Ms Martin has an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
“I can see light and darkness,” she said.
“I found out when I was about 17 that I had the eye disease, and in the last seven to eight years it’s got worse. I have to use a cane.”
She’s enjoyed getting back in the water.
“I used to swim a lot and I enjoy the water,” she said.
“In the water it seems with the exercises they’re a lot more strenuous.
“It makes you work a bit harder.”
Ms Wickham said about six people attended regularly and that more people were welcome.
“Apart from the social contact – we’re like kids, really, it’s great to play together – it’s also good mental stimulation,” she said.
“It helps brain function, it helps us to ward off ageing.
“It keeps us fit both mentally and physically and it’s a great social outing instead of just talking in a circle over a cup of coffee.”
Dandenong Oasis is at Heatherton Road and Cleeland Street, Dandenong.
Email info@blindsports.org.au or call 9822 8876 for more information.

See swish players in action.