Jenna talks about her experience of sport and exercise since becoming paralysed in 2014. She talks about the trials and tribulations of remaining active in a rural setting such as Enniscrone, Co. Sligo and the essential provisions the government could put in place to support those living with mobility challenges. She documents her extraordinary quest for mobility and despite limited handfunction and lack of movement below her chest she is still managing to get a good workout in!
Tell me about your experience of being physically active:
I was by no means a sporty person before my accident, but I did take great pride in staying fit & healthy whether it was walking, running, swimming, horse riding, snow-boarding or scuba diving. Having a high cervical spinal cord injury (C5/6) leaves me limited in the amount of physical activity I can do. I’m unable to self-propel my manual chair outdoors independently due to weakness in my upper limbs and lack of balance resulting from a spinal cord injury.
I’ve come to terms with the fact I can no longer do some of those things but have comfort in knowing I can now stay physically active with my Batec Quad Hybrid handbike (weather depending of course).
What does being physically active mean to you? Why do you take part?
I cannot convey how much it means to me. Being physically active has improved my independence and most of all my physical health aswell as my mental health. I can now hitch on to my handcycle and head off on adventures with my friends & I don’t feel any less able! The right equipment is the difference between being independent or dependent, whether its exercise equipment or day to day utensils. Thanks to the electric assistance my Batec handbike offers me, it is possible to ride on steep slopes at the same speed as a non-disabled person does riding a bicycle. It is amazing the difference independent mobility can make to someone, giving them the ability to do what they want, and go where they choice. And that’s what life should be about, choice! Choice to be active or not.
Tell me if you encountered any challenges in participating in sport or physical activity?
I live in a rural area with no activities to avail of for those with mobility issues. I’m unable to self-propel my manual chair outdoors independently due to extremes in terrain so getting out and about in the fresh countryside air can be a challenge. Also, I have no hand function/dexterity and I am limited in physical strength restricting my participation in sport.
What activities/sport/exercise do you do?
I use my Batec Quad Hybrid handbike at least four times a week. It is an add-on handbike with electric assist designed for users with injuries like myself, quadriplegia, that affects both the upper and lower limbs and other similar disabilities. Since I got my handcycle it has changed my life! Also buying my active hands gripping aids allows me to do exercises in the gym I would otherwise not have been able to do as I have no hand function/dexterity.
If you met someone who had never taken part in any physical activity, what would you tell them, and why would you tell them they should start?
Physical activity contributes to your overall health and well-being and creates a much-needed feeling of positivity. They can enjoy healthy exercise alone or in the company of their friends and enjoy their independence once again. I am looking forward to many more adventures!
What more must be done to ensure constant progress towards everybody being active?
We’ve made great strides in this country over disability awareness, now we need more education in what it is like to have a disability and still remain physically active. Only through education and the power of knowledge from an early age can we raise awareness and encourage open conversation about impairments and positive change. Asking questions, seeing beyond appearances and discovering about the differences that make up the people in our world is essential to change the public’s idea of what it means to be an active disabled person. I think providing education around such is a really important step in redefining the mould and breaking the incapable, ignorant stereotype around people with disabilities and promoting positive attitudes.
What is your wish list for sports and physical activity? What would be the perfect situation for you now?
Both financial and accessibility issues for disabled people mean that sports and physical activities are often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity; Provision for proper supports for sporting facilities in rural communities such as Enniscrone in Sligo are needed. More accessible gyms, pools and inclusive walkways like the Greenway are needed throughout Ireland. My friends and I did part of the Greenway in October.
It traverses Ireland’s Atlantic coast between Westport town and Achill Island and visits the picturesque villages of Newport and Mulranny. This freedom of movement encompassing the ability to move in environments without being constantly obstructed is essential for everybodies well-being. I have found unfortunately, in transitioning from an able-bodied world to a world tacked on haphazardly for a person with limited mobility, segregation is commonplace and sadly an accepted part in public spaces and beyond. Spaces do not always flow easily with steps not welcoming to all bodies especially those on four wheels.