The power of sport and its ability of inclusion is simply amazing. Just take the Paralympics for example; A multi-sport event involving athletes from all over the world with a range of disabilities striving for equal treatment and excellence like their non-disabled Olympic counterparts. The highs and lows of their triumph and defeat are celebrated through the medium of sport. I was honoured to deliver a talk alongside Packie Bonnar at IT Sligo hilighting this very truth. The talks were entitled “The power of Sport to Inspire”.
In my opinion, sport and remaining as active as possible since my accident has helped me enormously in all aspects of my recovery. It has played a significant role on so many levels. A qualified gym instructor prior to my accident with a bachelor degree in Health Science and Physiology, there is no denying the physical benefits that exercise has on the human body. These range from preventing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, aiding with weight management, strength building, endurance and stamina, keeping joints loose and flexible, reducing stress and getting more restful sleep. In paralysis, physical activity goes a step further by helping with the secondary conditions of paralysis including the prevention of pressure sores, carpal tunnel syndrome, obstructive pulmonary disease, urinary tract infections, respiratory disease and better bladder and bowel function.
Supping Lough Gill
But then there’s not only learning how to function better physically but the mental aspect of recovery that sport has helped me with. Ultimately, feelings like belonging, self-respect, happiness and anything else needed to feel fulfilled must be explored by the individual. Sport and remaining physically active has enabled me to navigate the overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety I felt after my accident, whilst learning to re-understand my place in the world. The enormity of my situation became apparent when I realised I could no longer re-commence my life as before triggering all sorts of emotions. Sport was a great outlet for these potentially overwhelming and debilitating emotions offering a platform of fun and social activity for me; A release from trying to establish a new role in society.
Next, sport and physical activity helped me to re-build a positive self-Image whilst managing pain and coping with resultant fatigue. I had always been a very athletic, health conscious person and I struggled with how I viewed my new physical self. A new wheelchair user must learn to cope with a dramatic change in their body image which can affect self-esteem. Physical changes that occur after an SCI, means it can be tempting to compare ourselves with airbrushed, unattainable, unrealistic media norms. Sport has always enabled me to appreciate that each person is more than just how he or she looks on any given day. Finally, sport helped to create a sense of much needed companionship for me in the form of a team setting. This was essential at a time of an extreme loss such as a life altering experience when friendship and teammates are needed more than ever. The camaraderie I felt when playing sport and getting involved with events was so beneficial to my recovery and during times of intense experiences and emotion of loss and sadness offered me warmth and an indescribable sense of understanding.
As a keen fitness fanatic and lover of sports, I have not allowed my injury to get in the way of this love and passion by trying and participating in a whole array of sports. These sports range from wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, hand cycling, assisted horse riding and stand up paddle boarding (supping). Six months after my accident I entered the Inter Spinal Unit Games in Stoke Mandeville. I was honoured to receive the March-day 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.
Supping, Lough Gill
Assisted Horse riding