A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “Paralympics”

On Reflection

As it’s the first anniversary of the London Paralympics, I’ve been taking a bit of time out from the tandem to ponder whether the Games have affected me personally. I’m a part-time wheelchair user, (a tandem can only get you so far, unfortunately) and it’s when I consider my wheelchair that I realise I have been affected.IMG_0840

I’ve been a reluctant convert to the use of a wheelchair. Although I’d eventually got my head round the idea of using one for when I couldn’t just walk a small distance, I would cringe inwardly as I was wheeled around in my clunky chair.

I became enormously self-conscious at the thought of getting out of my chair and walking the last part of my journey, say into a cafe or, sometimes, down a flight of steps as it was just such a darned hassle to find an alternative route. I imagined horrified looks from passersby, believing me to be a fraud. I wanted a card to wave at such people, saying, ‘I’ve got MS, I can’t walk very far’.

Then I watched the Paralympics. I was totally hooked and soaked up everything there was to know about the athletes and their machines. David Weir, Hannah Cockcroft and Sarah Storey became familiar names, and I was awed by the brutality of Murderball and the agility of the wheelchair basketball players. I became a Paralympic geek.

I also noticed that sometimes a swimmer would walk to their starting position but would use a wheelchair after having given their all in the water, although the camera remained firmly on their exhausted face during the post-race interview.

I became an avid watcher of the Last Leg too: the programme that took a light hearted view of each day’s events. It was very funny! People with disabilities were laughing at funny things that happened in relation to their disabilities; and about anything else that made them – and anyone else – laugh. (I’m delighted that they’ve now got a regular series; a light hearted look at the previous week’s news by three blokes who happen to have only four legs between them.)

And then I found that I was getting severe wheelchair envy. I wanted to whizz about like these athletes! I realised that I was no longer seeing disabled people playing sport but athletes using wheelchairs as a means to an end. A wheelchair was just a piece of kit, like a car; it got you about. In fact, it was getting some of them about at great speed! If I wasn’t looking at their chairs (except with envy!) then maybe people wouldn’t be looking at my chair rather than me either.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have made one particular change though, to the wheelchair itself. After a final noble trip to Ghent (where the cobbles, although pretty, are totally impractical if you’re in a wheelchair) finally did for my chair (and very nearly me too!), it was quietly retired and I have acquired a sleek, black self-propelling one. I can now imagine myself to be a member of the wheelchair basketball team – so long as no one throws me a ball!

It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks they’ve seen a miracle if I get out of my chair to walk a little – they probably aren’t watching and I should skip down stairs when I can anyway! (Okay, ‘skip’ is a bit of a stretch but I liked the image!) I always have a seat when I want one, and I have also (almost!) embraced being wheeled at terrifying speed by one of the teenagers. A white-knuckle ride all of its own! IMG_0808

Being Inspired

Calamity struck a few days before I was due to attend the Sports Fest event in Sheffield: Pete woke to find that his knee was extremely painful and he could barely walk. Clearly, this was not great for him; it also had a knock-on effect for me. I couldn’t drive there myself and then take part in any activities – I’d only have the energy for one or the other.

We made a right pair, hobbling about the house. In fact, I was suddenly the more mobile parent!

There then followed many frantic phone calls to all my friends to sell the idea of an unusual day out at a couple of days’ notice. Most were happy to come in principle but unsurprisingly already had things arranged. Fortunately, just when I had all but given up hope, Steph picked up my text and came to the rescue!sp2

We had a great day out! Once there, I headed straight for the archery area. I’d always fancied having a go at archery and now I had the chance. My instructor was very helpful in showing me exactly how to hold the bow and adjust my aim. I initially used a very light child’s practice bow, then moved on to a heavier one whilst sitting down, which I actually found easier. I am pleased to report that most of the arrows found the target! Afterwards, another volunteer took my details and will be forwarding me information about archery clubs near me – so watch this space!

I also tried rifle shooting. I know that sounds like an ominous couple of activities but there is no hidden agenda! I just thought they would suit someone less mobile and with decent eyesight, honest! Anyway, I discovered that my arm was too short to hold the rifle appropriately and shoot. (Probably much to the relief of everyone who knows me!)

One thing I tried, having had absolutely no thought of doing so beforehand, was horse riding! There was a rather impressively real-looking mechanical horse to ride. There was no queue; I was feeling adventurous, or mad, so I jumped on. Well, more guided on by some very lovely and knowledegeable volunteers. Before I knew it I was cantering rather sp3too fast and gripping horse and reins tightly. Rather too tightly it turned out: it goes faster the tighter you grip. So, totally counter-intuitively, I had to relax my legs and arms, and sit back in the saddle. It worked … well, that and the fact that the lovely lady pressed some buttons so that she could control entirely what speed we went. It was really good fun and apparently they use such a device initially with novices, which seems like a great idea. They reassured me that they always use very placid horses with beginners … I’ve got leaflets for that too!

We did a spot of chatting with a celebrity as well. Hannah Cockroft, double Paralympic gold medal-winning sprint wheelchair racer (and local Halifax hero!), was at the athletics stand, happily handing out her medals to everyone to hold and having her photo taken. (Yes, obviously, we got photos too!) There were lots of youngsters around her and she was cheery and encouraging to them all as they tried out the racing chairs or simply wanted to be photographed with her.sp5

There were several Paralympic athletes helping out at the different sports stands, easily distinguished by their Team GB tracksuits and distinctive red trainers. Three of them also gave a short talk about their experience at the Paralympics, how they had got into sports initially and what sport meant to them. That was when I discovered that one of the women who had been talking to me at the horseriding stand was actually Sophie Wells who had won team gold in dressage as well as two silver medals! Also speaking were Will Bayley, the very enthusiastic table tennis player who won a silver and bronze, and powerlifter, Ali Jawed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also had the chance to try rowing, using a machine that kept my legs in place so all the effort was in my arms. I noticed that someone was punching my details into a laptop and before I knew it I was in a race with the two chaps either side of me! My personal coach encouraged me to speeds I didn’t know I could achieve … but I still lost! I think I’ll stick to two-man canoes, where my input isn’t essential!

Finally, I tried hand cycling. It’s deceptive: you think it looks very gentle as you’re practically lying down but then you have to put all your effort into your arms to move. Apparently they are very aerodynamic and you can go pretty fast for the effort put in. (Though cheating on the back of a tandem still wins for me!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was lovely to see so many people there, particularly youngsters whom, you never know, we might see in Rio in 2016! But it also gave you a chance to try something new. It’s funny, I’ve never been what you’d call sporty and before having MS I would never have gone to a day dedicated to trying out different sports but now, with MS, here I was! See where getting on a tandem has taken me!

Also, Steph was mulling something over all the way back and when I got home I received an email from her: she’d just bought a bike! The spirit of Being Inspired continues to spread!

Diving In

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwimming. In a pool. I know, it doesn’t count as getting outdoors in the fresh air. However, I have to explain where it’s just landed me!

Swimming is the one form of exercise that I’ve continued with, both before and since having MS. I’ve just had to completely rethink my approach to it. I used to race against myself every week, gradually increasing the number of lengths I could do in 30 minutes. I have to admit that I started from an extremely low base, of about two lengths! Let me explain.

When we first married, many moons ago, Pete suggested we went running together. A little apprehensive, I agreed. It was a nightmare! I managed a few hundred metres then collapsed in a heap, weakly waving him on. I was so appalled at the thought of having to repeat the experience that I hastily announced that I would get some exercise by going swimming after work instead.

That was when I remembered that my swimming mainly consisted of splashing about in lakes or the sea on holiday, and that I had barely entered a swimming pool since enduring the mad scrum of school swimming lessons. And so I discovered that I could do about two lengths, max.

However, with regular weekly sessions I was pleased with my steady improvement. I stopped less frequently, and rapidly increased the number of lengths until I reached something of a plateau. I would still push myself each week, trying to squeeze an extra length out of my time, but kept strictly to my 30-minute limit.

After having climbed into the pool weary from my working day I would leave with my head feeling spring cleaned, light  and airy.


During that commonly experienced lengthy period between a possible and definite diagnosis of MS, I continued to go swimming but would get frustrated. I would still push myself but sometimes felt like I was barely moving. Then I had some physiotherapy and began the long road to rethinking my approach to … well, most things.

No longer was the idea to push myself to the limit, to keep going until I felt I would burst. Now I was to be kind to my body, resting it regularly so that it could keep going for longer. Pausing; being gentle; conserving energy.

This attitude had to apply to every part of my life, not just swimming. It was (still is) very hard to do! It goes against everything that you’re told. However, I started to give it a go. In the pool, I would swim a length, pause, swim another, get frustrated and swim a few, thinking ha! I can still do it. Then I’d get out and regret it immediately. I’d have no energy for anything. So, next time: swim, pause, swim, pause, try not to look at the clock. Well, I still do half an hour and I still count the number of lengths. But gradually, gradually, I relearnt, and now I keep to the same number of lengths each week. I know that’s the number that works.

And I still get out of the pool feeling great. Well, my head feels great; it tells me that I can do anything. My body, though, is keen to take it easy for the rest of the day. Which brings me to where swimming has landed me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI came home from swimming the other morning, feeling invincible! It was fantastic; I could do anything I put my mind to! I switched on my computer to find an email about a day arranged by ParalympicsGB to encourage more people with disabilities to try out different sports. Well, I could do that! Before I knew it, I had completed the online form, ticking a wide variety of sports to try … and now I’m off to Sheffield next weekend to try out as many sports as possible, and hopefully meet some paralympic athletes. I expect it will be me and a load of 10-year-olds all hoping to get to Rio – them, not me! At 40-plus-quite-a-few-years-on-top I’m simply hoping to have a fun day out and live out that Olympic and Paralympic motto to Be Inspired!


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