Aleisha Ritchie – Boccia Disability Sport Auckland | Faces of Auckland Sport and Recreation Volunteers
Many of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s 300,000-plus volunteers help out in sports and recreation activities that have been part of their lives for years. For others though, volunteering involves jumping head first into activities they’ve never been involved in – or, in Aleisha Ritchie’s case, even heard of.
Aleisha discovered her passion for disability sport while completing a Bachelor of Sport and Recreation majoring in Exercise Science and Nutrition.
But since being introduced to the world of boccia – a precision ball sport related to bowls – a couple of years ago through her job at Disability Sport Auckland (DSA), she’s not looked back.
Aleisha’s role with DSA sees her primarily work with disability athletes under the age of 21, helping to deliver programmes for them during the day and after school. On top of that, she also volunteers in disability sport.
“One of the programmes I run for DSA as a volunteer is the boccia programme,” she says. “Boccia is a paralympic game, which is very similar to lawn balls and pétanque. The aim of the game is to get your coloured balls closest to the white 'jack'.
“I’d never heard of it when I started at DSA, but they asked me if I was keen to volunteer to learn the sport and to coach it. I figured, 'why not? I'll give it a go, it's something new.’ And ever since then, I've absolutely loved it.”
As a seated sport, boccia is accessible to people with different abilities, but is a challenging sport to grasp. “It's a tricky one to understand at the beginning, but once people kind of get the hang of it it's so much fun,” Aleisha says. “It's a super inclusive kind of sport, with a little bit of everything.”
Aleisha’s volunteering sees her running a boccia programme in Mount Albert. This involves booking venues, promoting the programme, setting up courts and activities, and refereeing games.
Volunteering in boccia has taught Aleisha “perseverance, through learning a new sport. I thought once I left school, it was done and all my sports was finished. But I love it, and I really love the community that’s part of it.
“Boccia isn’t a very well-known sport, but for the participants who do play it's the highlight of their week. It’s the highlight of my week, as well. In the beginning the participants don’t really know each other, but two or three weeks in they've built strong [bonds]…I love trying to think of new, innovative and creative ideas to keep them engaged.”
Aleisha says volunteering has been “so rewarding for me. It's fun, and you build such awesome relationships, not only with participants, but also their families.”
“You may be a little out of your comfort zone because you might go somewhere where you don't necessarily know every person in the room, or know the sport. Those first few steps and the first few sessions are a little bit [daunting], but by the end of it, it's easy as pie.”