Tokyo Paralympics: Meet the McCowan family going for Boccia gold

Jamie McCowan and mum Linda of Team Great Britain in action during a Boccia training session ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Jamie McCowan and mum Linda train in Tokyo in preparation for the Boccia competition
Paralympic Games on the BBC
Venue: Tokyo, Japan Dates: 24 August-5 September Time in Tokyo: BST +8
Coverage: Follow on Radio 5 Live and on the BBC Sport website

The atmosphere in the McCowan family home in Dundonald, Ayrshire, is tense.

Couches and tables are pushed to the walls and the TV is off, as the living room becomes a Boccia court, where brothers Jamie, 26, and Scott, 30, do battle.

Mum Linda or dad Gary take turns to check on the dinner next door, but it's hard to take your eyes off the compelling action.

"You know when you hear about footballers playing in a cage when they were younger? It was close quarters, quite physical. It was basically the Boccia equivalent of that," Jamie explains.

"Our family are so competitive, so it decided your mood for the entire week whether you won or lost."

Scott agrees, and still bears the scars from a run of 12 defeats, though he makes sure it's known he eventually took the bragging rights in the 'Lockdown Championship'.

"By the end I was broken, I literally couldn't put one ball in front of the other for fear of getting beat again," he says.

This has been life for the McCowan family for the last 18 months as all four of them prepared to head to Tokyo for the Paralympics. Scott and Jamie as athletes in the Boccia BC3 singles and pairs with Linda and Gary acting as their sons' ramp assistants.

The brothers have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a condition which progressively weakens muscles and reduces life expectancy to below 40 years old.

So, when the coronavirus pandemic struck, the family were unable to leave the house, and had to stop carers coming in due to risk of infection.

"We had to do 24-hour care, everything basically on our own," Linda explains. "So that was the big challenge. For a lot of people it was maybe their quiet time, but for us it was our busiest time ever."

"Don't get me wrong it was tough, really tough, but it was just something you had to do and get on with it," Gary adds.

'We were never wrapped in cotton wool'

The McCowans are not the type to complain. Before Scott and Jamie's condition left them needing wheelchairs, they would compete alongside everyone else at school sports day, which "wasn't easy" for Linda to watch, but demonstrates their determination to take every challenge on.

After finding Boccia at 15 following a taster session, they have never looked back. There have been European medals, competitions all around the globe, and now another shot at the Paralympics. Tokyo will be older brother Scott's third games, and Jamie's second.

"It has changed our lives," Scott says of Boccia. "I never even thought of the Paralympics, I was just thinking of something fun to do because I'd never been able to participate in any sport properly."

"Mum and Dad are being a bit modest about it, but I think it comes from them," Jamie adds. "The way we were brought up, we were never wrapped up in cotton wool, we were treated like everybody else.

"I think as soon as you change your life based on your disability you're not really going to get beyond that. You need to live your life as full as possible."

One of the main things the brothers are keen to do again post-Covid is go to gigs. Their love of music is up alongside their passion for sport. Trips to see Elton John, The Who, and Guns N' Roses have been put on hold in recent months.

"There's nothing better than live music," Jamie says. " It's one of the great joys, listening to a band for years and finally getting to see them in person. That and live sport, I don't think there's anything better."

Brothers meet in Toyko

It is hard to think of the brothers doing anything other than sport, because their competitive instinct shines through. Among the Boccia squad, they are likened to Roy Keane, in reference to the former Manchester United midfielder's win-at-all-costs mentality.

When they talk about their previous Paralympic experiences, there is some reflection of the great time they had, but a simmering disappointment at not finishing among the medals.

"The overriding feeling is failure because you didn't achieve what you set out to do," Scott says. "I think the minute trying to achieve success isn't the main priority then it's probably time you gave it up."

The pair have competed for their own lockdown championship over the last year, and competed in their opening game of the Paralympics on Saturday. It was a sore one for Jamie, with Scott winning 7-1.

"It's always quite simple for us," explains Jamie. "If I'm in the singles, my sole aim is to finish first and where Scott finishes is down to him. But equally, if I went out and Scott was still in it, he's the player I want to win it."

"Essentially it's the same mindset for any other game," Scott adds. "We prepare the exact same way. It balances itself out, I think people round about it worry about it more than we do."

Linda is ramp assistant to Jamie, while Gary does the same job for Scott, as the brothers use the ramps to propel the ball onto the court. So, do the parents get just as competitive?

"We're as bad," Linda says.

"Dad's the worst," Scott interjects.

"Aye he's the worst, I'm not quite as bad."

Living in such a competitive environment, you suspect, probably won't do the brothers' Paralympic chances any harm.

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