WHEN Sue Austin whizzes around a Portland swimming pool in her underwater wheelchair today it will be a proud moment for her island team.

The disabled artist has amassed a small army of dedicated volunteers and specialists from across Portland, all inspired by the concept of turning an NHS wheelchair into jet-propelled diving tool.

The Freewheeling project is a world first, which aims to overturn misconceptions about disability and inspire a specialist disabled dive centre on the island.

To celebrate the start of the Paralympic Sailing events hosted in Portland Harbour, it will be showcased to the public in a series of choreographed, acrobatic underwater performances at Osprey Leisure Centre, Castletown until Saturday.

An underwater audience will see Creating the Spectacle! first hand while others can watch from the poolside.

Portland resident Andrea Frankham-Hughes has been working on costume design, while her husband Rob Hughes has been heavily involved as the team dive instructor. Mrs Frankham-Hughes said: “We’ve already sold out for the first night.

“Rob and I are working on the project and lots of local people are involved as volunteers, including divers on the island who are helping out in the pool and with all aspects of the performance.

“We’ve used an engineer on the island and equipment from Underwater Explorers in Castletown.

“All these people have really contributed, making it a project that’s really special for the island.”

The £50,000 National Lottery-funded project has been supported by borough arts officer Alan Rogers and award-winning photographer and diver Norman Lomax who captured stunning footage during a filming stint in the Red Sea, Egypt.

In June, the first public underwater wheelchair performance took place in Weymouth’s Fleet Lagoon and was still hailed a success by Ms Austin despite strong tides sweeping her off course.

In addition to the live events, a film of the underwater wheelchair performances is being shown at the ICCI360 dome, near Weymouth Pavilion until September 9.

A London 2012 Festival film, part of the Unlimited Arts Council England programme, will feature at the Southbank Centre, London and footage was also shown at the Paralympic Flame Festivals in the UK’s capital cities over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Ms Austin said: “I’m thrilled that lots of people have been inspired by the project already, many of them telling me how seeing the wheelchair underwater has made them want to try it too.

“They’re realising that it’s actually extending the boundaries for all of us.”

Watch while in pool

THE first underwater wheelchair performance will take place at Osprey Leisure Centre, Weymouth today at 5.30pm – with earlier attendance required for those watching from inside the pool.

Two more shows will take place on Friday and Saturday.

Tickets cost £10 for the poolside audience, £30 for Underwater Gold – the ‘in pool audience requiring training and/or equipment’ and £25 for Underwater Silver – the in pool audience with a diving qualification and all own equipment.

Five free tickets are up for grabs for both the Friday and Saturday night performances – email freewheelilng4fans@gmail.com

See more at wearefreewheeling.co.uk

Athletes will do amazing things

Britain’s Paralympic sailing stars are set to blow preconceptions of disability out of the water.

British Sailing Team manager Stephen ‘Sparky’ Park, encouraged spectators to watch the fast and furious sailing action when the athletes take to the waters of Portland Harbour on Saturday September 1.

He said: “These are not just poor disabled people, these are athletes who happen to be disabled.

“Some of them have some additional challenges which might make it more difficult but equally some of the boats have adapted equipment to try and make it a level playing field in that regard. Yes some of them do amazing things considering the disabilities they have got, some of it is frankly incredible but certainly from our team’s perspective we just deal with them as athletes.”

There will be a practice day on Friday, August 31, ahead of the six-day regatta. Some of the best areas to watch the action from include: parts of Nothe Gardens, Sandsfoot Beach and Gardens, Hamm Beach, areas of the Rodwell trail and the viewpoint on Portland near The Heights Hotel.

  • AS part of the Paralympics the free beach sports arena will be back from Saturday to Saturday, September 7, offering activities including rowing, wheelchair tennis, and fencing.

The Ramblers Association will lead daily guided walks from Saturday to Tuesday, starting at 9.30am at Weymouth train station.

And the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad by the Sea will be continuing on Portland, with b-side Multimedia Arts Festival, from today to Sunday, September 9, events include 500 instruments coming to Bowers Quarry as part of the Harmonic Fields musical event.

For more information about any of the cultural events, visitwww.dorsetfor you.com/sailing2012