Rugby clubs team up to help girl climb Scottish peak in her wheelchair

When Oona Dooks leaves her house for school each day, she sees dot-sized hikers rounding their way up the hills of Arthur’s Seat, the historic peak looming over Edinburgh, Scotland, to catch the famed views of the city from its 800-foot-high summit. For years, Oona had wanted to join them.

Eleanor Dooks thought the dream was out of reach for her 10-year-old daughter, who was born with contractures affecting her legs and hips and uses a wheelchair. But Oona, a sparky, competitive para swimmer, continued to ask. Last spring, Dooks posted a request in an Edinburgh Facebook group asking if anyone would be willing to help her daughter make the climb.

“I hadn’t really thought it through,” Dooks told The Washington Post. “I didn’t really know how they were going to do it, but I just kind of said, ‘She’d really like to get to the top.’”

It would take teamwork, determination and a bit of muscle to help Oona reach the summit. Fittingly, Edinburgh’s rugby clubs volunteered. Last Sunday, after months of planning and weather delays, members of the Edinburgh Eagles, a local rugby league club, and the Edinburgh Giants, a wheelchair rugby league club, teamed up to bring an ecstatic Oona, steering a specialty off-road wheelchair, to the top of Arthur’s Seat.


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“It was an important thing for her to do,” Dooks said. “I’m just pleased that we managed to be able to help her do that.”

The climb up to Arthur’s Seat is a popular, roughly two-mile trail that most hikers complete in about an hour. Oona’s parents had never completed it themselves — they were determined to wait until they could do so with Oona, together as a family.

The goal felt increasingly unattainable. Dooks had tried to bring Oona up the hill when she was 3 years old, but her disability made it painful for her to sit in a baby carrier, Dooks said. The final stretch of the climb to Arthur’s Seat becomes too rocky and steep to easily push a wheelchair.

Oona’s primary school has a challenge of 50 things students should do before they leave and enter middle school, Dooks said. Climbing Arthur’s Seat is one of them.

“Oona has kind of grown up with that right on her horizon, all the time,” Dooks said.

Dooks’s Facebook request quickly reached members of the Eagles and Giants. Martyn Gill, the Giants’ chairman, said he was compelled to help. Gill had formed the Giants just weeks before seeing Dooks’s post and was in the midst of preparing for the team’s first match. But he couldn’t overlook the request.

“I just think that’s what we stand for as a club,” Gill said. “We’re trying to provide opportunities for people to fulfill their potential and break down some of the stigmas that may exist around disability and disability sports.”

Gill invited Oona and her family to a wheelchair rugby game where they could meet the club. Oona presented the game ball and cheered the Giants on to victory at the team’s first match in May 2023.

“She really loved it,” Dooks recalled. “She goes to mainstream school so she doesn’t get to meet a lot of other people who have visible disabilities and who use wheelchairs. I think it gives her a real boost.”

A Scotland-based company provided a special all-terrain wheelchair that could handle the climb up Arthur’s Seat for Oona, and the team was set. They initially planned to make the climb before the end of 2023, but delayed it after a spell of bad weather.

Despite the setbacks, Oona’s enthusiasm never waned. When she finally set off on the climb on the morning of May 19, “she talked all the way, nonstop,” Dooks said.

A team of Giants and Eagles players flanked Oona’s wheelchair. At the front of the procession, two players pulled Oona’s wheelchair along with ropes and harnesses, while two others pushed from behind. Oona’s parents and their cocker spaniel followed along.

The climb grew steeper and turned from a paved path into a grassy trail studded with slippery rocks. Gill and his teammates kept pushing.

“We’re rugby people,” Gill said. “[We thought] ‘Okay, when the going gets tough, we need to dig in a little bit and we need to show a little bit of resilience, just like when people are playing.’”

A crowd of tourists and hikers at the summit cheered and clapped as Oona and her team crested the hilltop. Mikey Mair, the Eagles’ captain, hoisted a beaming Oona onto a stone that marked the tallest point of Arthur’s Seat and the group took a triumphant photo.

“She was the tallest person in Edinburgh for those minutes,” Gill said.

Oona and the team returned from the summit, completing the climb up and down Arthur’s Seat in about three hours, and shared celebratory ice creams. Oona has had much to ponder in the weeks since, Dooks said. She can now tell her classmates that she has crossed Arthur’s Seat off her list. And she might be eyeing a new challenge in her newfound rugby fandom. As they made the climb, Oona asked the Giants players if she could join their team, Dooks said.

“I’ve learned not to rule anything out with her,” she added.

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