Get yourself active blog

Freedom of the Hills

Tuesday 13 February 2018

This week’s Personal Experience Blog is brought to us by our friends at Cox Bank Publishing, a small specialist publisher focusing on writing about physical activity and sport – specifically people writing in their own words what getting active means to them.

We love this story of how the possibility of being confined to her wheelchair inspired Allie to found a company which enables wheelchair users to access British hills and mountains. You can see more at the Freedom Wizard website here.

Freedom Wizard on Latrigg in the Lake District

Sat deflated in a hospital bed, barely around from the anesthetic and I heard the words “I’m afraid, it’s bad news”. I guessed the words were intended for me and what was said following was not processed. It could have been the drugs or it could have been my powerful mind not letting me hear. The next day I was more coherent. I had no movement in my right leg after an 8-hour reconstruction surgery, but I thought that was normal. I’d had an epidural on top of the anesthetic, but as my left leg came back into order, there was no change in my right leg. I couldn’t move it or feel it at all. Then reality hit – a major risk of the surgery was damage to the nerves. I carried confidence as my left leg had already had the same surgery 12 months prior – but reality told me I’d suffered damage, and a lot of it. It was true, I had come round from surgery but my leg hadn’t.

I lay in hospital thinking and writing, writing and thinking for hours on end, day after day for weeks. On reading my words I began to see they were relatively positive. They screamed out my upbeat attitude and focussed on the ‘Now What Scenario’ – I instantly began researching how I can cope, what will I do; so rather than listing what I couldn’t do, I focussed on my outdoor sports.

The gym is my idea of hell. Despite never playing truant at school I went on to become a serial avoider of physio classes! From a young age, largely brought up in the Lake District surrounded by mountains and water, I definitely was an outdoor sporty lass.

Allie Pennington

The serenity of the fells, the stillness of the tarns, the banter in the mountaineering clubs were sounds and sights that have been my favourite from childhood until now. But then, how can someone in a wheelchair enjoy the sights in the fells and be included in the mountaineering clubs? It was difficult, believe me. Many clubs refused on insurance grounds for a wheelie to be included. The majority of routes excluded wheelies with the horror obstacle otherwise known as a stile. Camping barns and hostels are seldom accessible and tents seemed pretty much out of the question.

As you can imagine, a lot of thought processing went on and researching cost us a fortune in internet cards at the hospital. It was on day two that I realised there is very little, so I went about finding stuff and writing an action plan of where, when and how I could access sport in my chair. Motivation was key and I was determined to continue my life as an outdoors life.

And then….3 months on….my leg did something bizarre, it made me jump out of my skin! It started to move in a spasm, but soon after I was able to get some movement in my knee. I promptly returned to the surgeons who set up a daily physio session and I am proud to say I didn’t miss a single one. To witness the movement returning was amazing and I cried happy tears daily. I’m chuffed to say I have regained almost full movement in the leg but even after 18 months of no feeling I was able to walk again after training my brain to do more work.

It’s hard work to have to consciously think about moving your foot, lifting it up over rough terrain, and having to concentrate even more so after a drink or two, but I did it. My leg is working again and the wheelchair was an unnecessary aid along with the eight sets of crutches I’d ‘accrued’ over the years!

The fells were possible after about 6 months – gentle steps, and small steps over easy terrain but I got to be there again. My days of mountaineering were still a thing of the past with inadequate range to climb and lack of build to cover distances I once did with ease.

The haunting of the prospect of being confined to my chair for life never left me and never will. It’s hard not to reflect on life after a traumatic experience, so when I was looking to change my career I thought of mentoring others who are in a similar position. As a speaker, I had the gift of the gab and having run my own business, my contact list was comprehensive. However, speaking and mentoring just didn’t feel right for me but the name of Freedom Wizard had already been thought of. After weeks of making notes and journal entries I had that lightbulb moment. There it is…I’ll set up an organisation enabling access to rugged Britain…so I did! And now I can say that I’m the founder of Freedom Wizard and proud driver of a van transporting all terrain wheelchairs around the country. Within the first three months, I have given access to more than thirty adults with restricted mobility, received a minibus and an electric chair as a donation and connected many organisations that are supporting each other.

On reflection, my initial fear of being confined to a wheelchair has given rise to an opportunity to those adults who may not be as fortunate as me. The work with Freedom Wizard is rewarding and there’s so much more to be done with access and growth. The fear was harnessed and driven to the place I am now and whilst it was born out of a selfish need to meet my own intentions it has given rise to a unique organisation allowing those in chairs who crave the outdoors to enjoy it. So don’t be fearful of fear…harness its power!

Allie and Max on Latrigg

Take a look at Cox Bank Publishing to read some more wonderfully inspiring stories from disabled people, alongside stories from school children and non-disabled people.

If you want to feature on our Personal Experience Blog contact Kirsty Mulvey at kirsty.mulvey@disabilityrightsuk.org.

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