Wednesday 26 April 2017
This week’s Personal Experience Blog comes from Sue Kent from Mumbles, Wales
My name is Sue Kent and I am a sports massage therapist with a difference – I use my feet to provide massage in my clinic in Wales. I am the first person to gain this qualification using my feet and have had the privilege to work at the Paralympics in 2012. I have full use of my legs but 8″ arms and 7 fingers.
My disability was caused by the drug thalidomide. Thalidomiders, as we are collectively known, were all born in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There are just under 500 of us still alive in the UK today.
As a result of my condition I use my body in different ways to cope with normal everyday physical tasks. Exercise is one of the major factors that can prevent and often reverse some of the effects of the constant wear and tear on my body.
One of the reasons I am as fit as I am is thanks to my mum. At the age of five I was put into ballet classes. It was not the ballet itself, but the pre-dance stretches, that gave me the ability to reach my head with my toes. This gave me the independence to be able to wash and brush my hair and dress myself. The ballet itself gave me the balance to stand on one leg in a balanced position. It set me on a life of stretching. When I got to the age of fourteen I realised I wasn’t going to be a ballet dancer and moved to martial arts as they have similar warm-up routines. Since the age of 27 I have done yoga every week.
I was also lucky enough to attend a school with a swimming pool and had a couple of great teachers, so I have swum for as long as I can remember. Swimming is one of the safest exercises and helps strengthen the heart, the legs and back without excessive wear and tear on the hips and knees joints. It also makes me feel graceful in the water. My arms move freely and different muscles activated.
At the same time I was taught to ride an adapted bike and I still ride every week in the summer months with friends. I don’t ride in winter as my hands cannot grip through gloves.
I suffered with asthma from childhood into my early 40s, so had always avoided running. But after listening to a disability podcast by BBC Ouch featuring a lady who was told she could never run as her lungs wouldn’t take it, but with interval training had completed a marathon, I followed her example and learned to run short distances – a maximum of 3 kilometres. 5 kilometres always seemed beyond me but my coach and my husband managed to drag the distance out of me for two big disability events. Having to achieve longer distances takes the joy out of it for me. Generally I would rather do my varying sport and exercise for fun rather than enter events.
10 years ago I stumbled across a canoe with pedals not paddles by Hobie, I had watched from the shore as my family canoed each summer and was overjoyed that I could now join in.
At the age of 40 I took up skiing. I started in Whistler, Canada because they are really set up to help disabled people. Just two weeks there gave me firm foundations and lots of confidence. Skiing without poles involves a specific type of fitness. Training would start six weeks before the trip so my stomach muscles could get me off the floor should I fall, and my leg muscles were strong enough to move me along on the flat bits, I loved skiing but have taken the decision not to continue as I do not want to risk a broken limb at the age I am now. I also gave up dingy sailing two years ago, much as I love it I was getting too bruised and as I get older I recover more slowly from injury so I focus on activities that are less damaging.
I provide relief and succour to athletes taking part in local triathlons and the Welsh Ironman. At these events, when I am not working, I venture out to watch the athletes and marvel at their madness and determination. As you have read, I can swim, cycle and run, and so at the age of 53 I took part in the UK’s first inclusive mass-participation sports event Para Tri, which took place at Dorney Lake in Windsor. Every barrier that a disabled person could think of, (and believe me I tried), was removed where possible and every assistance was offered.
Personally, having had two falls a couple of years ago, I was aware that I needed to keep on top of my physical health. So when approached to do this event I thought it would be interesting to see what benefits it brought to me.
I decided to go all in and take on the longest of event, the Full Para Tri. I had seven weeks in which to learn to swim 750m on my front, to cycle 20k non-stop, and the worst thing for me – to run 5k. Cycling and running these longer distances I did get some nerve entrapment in my lower back and had to have physiotherapy and sport massage to halt the onset of sciatic pain but it was worth it.
The highlight was to see families and friends with and without disabilities working as a team and experiencing a sporting event together.
There is a new event this year in August run by Sophia Warner, which will provide a springboard for families and individuals to expand their sporting lives and give them confidence, health and abilities other arenas cannot provide.
For me, having any physical disability creates vulnerability and this increases the risk of having an accident or getting an injury. The value of exercise is perhaps more important to those without disabilities to protect long-term health and independence. Exercise and strength conditioning of muscles can increase strength, core stability and balance; by doing this it helps reduce physical vulnerability.