My life wouldn't be the same without the incredible adaptions available these days. I have no movement or sensation from the chest down yet I am 'able' to fly microlights, ride motorbikes, walk marathons, ski down mountains and cycle around the country lanes. Not only can I do these sporting activities, I feel welcomed into each sport and my disability doesn't define me. Inclusion gives me a real sense of belonging and I owe so much to all the people who have developed these adaptions and giving me the opportunity to live life to the full.
Being told that I will never walk again was an incredibly devastating and life-altering experience. It shattered the foundation of what was once considered normal and challenged the very essence of my identity. Initially, it felt like the ground beneath me had crumbled, leaving me in a state of disbelief, shock, and grief. The realisation that a fundamental aspect of mobility had been permanently altered, aged just 27, was overwhelming and led to a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration, and a huge sense of loss. Everyday tasks and activities that were once taken for granted suddenly became monumental hurdles.
Most aspects of my life changed; I had just reached the highest level in my sport with my future goals suddenly being stripped away from me, I lost my career, my relationship fell apart and I woke up each morning hating what I had become. Disabled. Thankfully I dug deep enough to wade myself through these darkest times, accepting help when I needed it most and eventually going on to achieve things I once would have deemed impossible.
Although it took a lot to come to terms with my catastrophic spinal cord injury, which left me paralysed from the chest down, it has also opened numerous doors. Once I decided to focus on what was possible rather than dwelling on the long list of things I could no longer do, my life started to rebuild and improve. I knew I was lucky to still have use of my arms and I was in a position to help rewrite the future of paralysis by fundraising to support the exciting research- new goals were set.
I have now raised over £865,000 for charity from various feats including walking the London Marathon using a robotic suit taking 17 days, riding motorbikes and flying planes, which all fit in around a busy family life with my husband and our two daughters as well as a career as a Motivational Speaker.
So the accident that turned my life upside down hasn’t held me back in the way I initially thought it would. In fact, it still amazes me that I can ride a motorbike at speeds of over 100mph on track days with mainly able bodied men or fly a plane solo and I am eternally grateful for the adaptions that allow me to do this. The sports I have found instill a sense of empowerment and accomplishment, and the thrill of pushing myself generates a profound sense of pride and fulfillment. I often find myself feeling totally free, able and not defined by my disability but there are times I don’t feel this way.
The biggest challenges can be just travelling around the UK for work or to go on holiday, something most people want to be able to do, and the thought of doing this can fill me with anxiety and worries, so much that I rarely travel alone.
After a few recent journeys whilst filming for ITV Tonight- Access denied? Britain’s Mobility Problem , it has confirmed my fears of being stranded on a train or unable to access a station are legitimate. I was asked to present this programme and I am so glad I took the opportunity to bring the attention to many issues people with disabilities face daily.
The programme explored the various challenges that people face with mobility problems and what is being done to remove the stress that so often comes with travelling. My accident was 16 years ago now, and I remember using the train to get to London for some rehabilitation. When I discovered how uneasy and stressed it made me feel I decided to drive in to the city centre each time.
I am in a totally different place mentally these days meaning I can deal with stressful situations that travelling may present much better than I used to, so I do use the trains but in all those years I have not seen any changes. We still face the very same problems such
as having no ramp available to get off the train at your destination. When so many things are automated these days, why can we not access a ramp with a push of a button?
Flights are exactly the same too, it is far too common that people’s wheelchairs are damaged, there is no way of using the toilet on the flight and promised assistance never appears.
Whilst I was travelling for this programme, there were times I felt let down, vulnerable and disabled. I know I am not alone.
Eight in ten disabled people have experienced difficulties whilst travelling on holiday and it even stops some people going away for a well deserved break.
Advocating for inclusivity and accessibility in the travel industry remains crucial as is access into and around buildings, striving towards a world where every individual can explore and experience the wonders of travel without unnecessary barriers, or just to simply get to work.