What does being physically active mean to you?
After a life altering event I think you just need to prioritize what makes you feel well-rounded, happy and fulfilled and focus on that. In doing so you can hope to regain a sense of control in your life. Whether its prioritizing education and finding a job after your injury, or helping more in the community, spending time with family and friends, taking up art, cooking, a sport if possible, being as independent as possible, voluntary work, meditation, fashion, makeup, blogging etc. I’ve tried and tested a few of the above avenues at this stage and there’s no doubt sports and remaining as active as possible since my accident has helped me enormously in all aspects of recovery.
What activities/sport/exercise do you do?
As a qualified gym instructor, a keen fitness fanatic and lover of sports, I have not allowed my injury which I sustained in 2013 to get in the way of that love and passion by participating in a whole array of sports. These sports range from wheelchair basketball, , handcycling, assisted horseriding to stand up paddle boarding (supping) on Lough Gill. Six months after my accident I entered the Inter Spinal Unit Games in Stoke Mandeville. I was honoured to receive the Marchday Award given to one individual for their overall outstanding achievement and endeavour across all sporting events. I also won silver in the women’s table tennis Quad category at the same games. In May 2015, following months of weekly training I completed my first 5km hand cycle road race in Co. Sligo.
What makes participating in sport/physical activity difficult?
Pain and resultant fatigue are daily norms with Spinal cord injury’s along with a litany of other health issues and many reasons why many disabled people find it hard to do things at short notice. I admit that I still struggle with the balance of finding the fine line between doing tasks myself to the point of physical exhaustion and accepting help (and more importantly asking for help). But for me personally, it is the drive for every snippet of independence that pushes me forward. I fully appreciate this is a different form of independence than before but by accepting and embracing this new disability-community definition of self-reliance first requires a major paradigm shift away from what you once knew. Even though time consuming it gives me a sense of fulfillment, knowing that I’m not reliant for some things. It is about setting realistic goals for yourself and slowly rebuilding the picture.Finally, as a quad, it is good to be ambitious and push yourself however do not allow a failure mentality to set in if you cannot do something by yourself.
Why do you take part?
A new wheelchair user has to cope with a dramatic change in their body image which can affect your self-esteem. I had always been a very athletic, health conscious person and I struggled with how I viewed my new physical self. Physical changes that occur after an SCI combined with trying to establish a new role in society, means it can be tempting to compare ourselves with others. As a young female I was and am particularly vulnerable to perceptions of my body and physical appearance. The media place a very important social value on personal body image with many of us comparing ourselves to airbrushed, unattainable, unrealistic media images. Sport has always enabled me to appreciate that each person is more than just how he or she looks on any given day.
If you met someone who had never taken part in anything before, what would you tell them, and why would you tell them they should start?
Learning how to function better physically whilst trying to re-understand your place in the world is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s only when you leave the hospital and try to recommence your “normal life’ that the enormity of the situation becomes apparent; with overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety starting to show up soon after stabilization. Despite family and friends best efforts, you must learn to navigate feelings like belonging, self-respect, happiness and anything else needed to feel well-rounded and fulfilled. Sport is a great outlet for those overwhelming and debilitating emotions offering a platform of fun and social activity.