Get yourself active blog

“Getting fit again has helped me get back part of what makes me who I am, and it’s had unexpected benefits”

Monday 29th July 2019

The latest person experience story comes from Leanora Volpe

My name is Lea, and I am a member of the GB paraclimbing team. I have recently been preparing for the world championships which took place in July in France, but it has been quite a long road to get from where I was to where I am today.

I have ataxia and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. My conditions affect my balance, coordination and eyesight, and my connective tissues are fragile and unsupportive, so all of my joints and some of my organs are affected.

I haven’t always identified as disabled. Although looking back I’ve always had joint issues and wasn’t the picture of health as a teenager, my EDS wasn’t picked up until I was 21, after I experienced a big decline in my health and mobility.

As a teenager and through university I was really active and at various points I was competing in fencing, athletics and rowing. Competitive sport was a big part of my life. But when I got ill I had to stop everything and everything I heard made me believe that exercise was dangerous and difficult for people like me, so I lost the confidence to try. Health professionals advise people with EDS to do physiotherapy but the daily exercises didn’t feel meaningful or fun so I lost the motivation to do them.

The turning point for me was when my physiotherapist at the time told me to adjust my expectations about ever being able to do sports again. It was like a red rag to a bull and I signed up for a gym membership determined to prove him wrong. I had to start with just five minutes going really slowly on an exercise bike but I managed to build up the time I spent and started to incorporate strengthening exercises. As I started to get fitter I had more energy and I felt better in myself.

Then a friend told me about climbing and I decided to give it a try. I was so scared that it would be too hard or painful, and looking back it would have been a confidence boost to have the support of people around me to try new things and take risks, but after my first session I was hooked and kept going back.

Being newly disabled was isolating for a while and finding a new hobby helped me to reconnect with people in a really welcoming environment.

Nobody expects you to be super strong when you start out, so it’s a level playing field. People just cheer you on whether you’re climbing at the lowest difficulty or the highest difficulty. People barely bat an eyelid when someone comes into the climbing wall with a mobility aid or wearing a prosthetic leg – we are all equals and encourage each other regardless of ability.

After a year of climbing I found out about paraclimbing, which is climbing for people with various disabilities including visual impairments, limb differences or neurological and physical disabilities. There are lots of different categories, and mine is called ‘RP2’, which is for people with a range of moderate neurological and physical disabilities and can include anything from ataxia like me, to brain injuries, fused joints, paralysis – you name it! It’s a very mixed group.

I competed in the national championships and came second overall in my category. I decided to try out for the GB paraclimbing team and this summer competed in my first international competitions. I won the world paraclimbing master’s cup, and came third at the world championships.

It was such an amazing experience and I had a really brilliant time, and I enjoyed getting to meet paraclimbers from all over the world. I’ve learned a lot and am looking forward to next year. My ataxia is getting worse and it’s hard to deal with but there will always be a place for me in paraclimbing, which makes me feel more positive about the future.

Paraclimbing helps me feel proud to be disabled. I wouldn’t have this opportunity without my condition, and I wouldn’t have the friends I do now either.

My support network is really important to help me keep going – from my coach who adapts sessions to help avoid getting injured or too tired, to my physio who keeps my muscles and joints healthy and gives me advice about how to train safely, and my friends and family who spur me on when things are hard and believe in me every step of the way.

Getting fit again has helped me get back part of what makes me who I am, and it’s had unexpected benefits like helping me keep working, giving me more energy and helping me improve my balance and coordination.

Paraclimbers are really accepting of people’s different abilities and it’s an environment where it’s ok to find something difficult or have to take things slowly.

Before I was disabled I had trained for a marathon and was aiming to make the blue boat for Oxford. I would have loved to achieve my dreams in running and rowing but it’s empowering to have found something I can do and enjoy. It’s like I’ve left my old life behind and am on a different path now.

When your physical abilities are out of your control it can feel like a real loss. But to go from really struggling to get active again, to being the third best paraclimber in the world in my category feels amazing.

The most important thing for me was finding something I could do, and going at it with a huge amount of stubbornness and enthusiasm with a support network behind me. It’s not possible alone, and I feel really lucky to have stumbled across paraclimbing and had the opportunity and support to get active again.

In other news: If you have a story to share about why you get active and how it has helped you then we want to hear from you


Nina Bergonzi: How Nordic Walking keeps her physically active.

Friday 19 October 2018

This week’s personal experience blog post comes from Nina Bergonzi who has Dystonia and uses Nordic Walking to help keep herself physically active.

I am a 28-year-old woman with a chronic neurological condition which makes getting healthier more complicated.  I have Dystonia; which causes involuntary muscle spasms.  Mine is a complicated case and every muscle in my body is affected.  I have had Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, I have Botox injections regularly in my hands, feet and legs, and take medication daily.  There are days I cannot walk and can only mobilise in a wheelchair.

I am in constant pain, whether I am mobile or not, and needed a way to get fit that didn’t cause my pain levels to spike too much.

I have used walking sticks and crutches in the past so, when I heard about a new Nordic Walking group I thought it was a great way to try and improve my fitness. I contacted a local instructor who advised me to come along and try it out. Together with my mum and friend, we attended a training session.

Nordic Walking uses specially designed poles to enhance your natural walking experience. It combines the simplicity and accessibility of walking with simultaneous core and upper body conditioning, similar to Nordic skiing.

This results in a full body workout, which means that you:

  • burn up to 46% more calories compared to walking without poles
  • release tensions in your neck and shoulders
  • improve your posture and gait
  • strengthen your back and abdominal muscles
  • reduces the impact on your joints
  •  increases your maximum oxygen uptake and caloric expenditure
  •  combats obesity
  •  increases blood circulation and metabolism
  •  enhances mood
  •  good cardiovascular training
  •  suitable for all: irrespective of age, gender or physical ability
  •  it also tones 90% of your body!

For more information please go to:

I was concerned how I could cope. My instructor was great and put me at ease straight away. Chris lets you work at your own pace and makes each session a little bit different. This stops it being boring and keeps it fun. We can regularly be found laughing and chatting as we walk along. The other members of the group are lovely; and the social side has definitely helped me. Being disabled can be lonely and chatting to different people has helped improve my confidence and mood.

I have noticed I am becoming more toned and each session has left me less breathless.

Even though I struggle to hold the poles, my toes are in constant spasm and each step I take is agony, I am enjoying the time spent with others and improving my fitness. Even by just enjoying the scenery or breeze on my face, each session leaves me feeling brighter. It has helped my well-being and I feel mentally and physically stronger already.

Our first training session was over two months ago, I have now purchased my own poles and am looking forward to using them to get fitter. Even if that is just in my own home or garden when I am not well enough to go out!

The hardest thing about wanting to get fitter – which will improve my quality of life – is being judged by those who do not know me.

During these last two months, there were three weeks I did not leave the house. I barely walked and was having severe, full-body muscle spasms for a few hours every day. I was drowsy from medication and aching from the storm (what we refer to severe spasms as).

I did notice however that my body seemed to recover a bit quicker; unfortunately for me over the past few years these storms have become a regular occurrence, and I was keen to get back out and join the walking group again.

That being said, in the back of my mind is always the worry about my disability benefits. What if my one outing a week to get fit affects my benefits? Unfortunately, the way the UK currently is, I know this is a worry for a lot of disabled people.

I am unable to work due to my Dystonia, and if I lost my benefits I do not know what I would do. Having a rare condition that not many know about – including medical professionals – means there are others with Dystonia who do not get any benefits at all.

I am only out for an hour, and our routes go through public gardens/parks or around the perimeter of sports fields, and includes warm up and warm down exercises. Other groups do more challenging routes. My disability limits me, but I feel this small amount of exercise has been beneficial.
Being in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, there are fewer opportunities and facilities for disabled people, but if you look, I’m sure like me, you can find one that really does help.

To see some extra pictures that show how Dystonia affects Nina go here.

In other news: In her post Nina writes about her fears of losing her benefits. New research shows almost half of disabled people fear losing benefits if they take part in exercise.

Dawid is proving Disabled People can get into fitness

30 August 2018

Dawid  Reszczynski is a remarkable person. Originally from Poland and born with cerebral palsy, he along with his family came to live in the UK eleven years ago.

As early as 14 Dawid fell in love with keeping fit and he started working out at his local gym, Henbury Leisure Centre. He found a natural home there, and while still a teenager was able to secure a work experience placement with the personal training team. Dawid have since gone on to greater things, becoming a qualified fitness instructor in 2016 and even finding work at his local gym. But his ambition didn’t stop there. After gaining some experience, he knew he wanted to branch out on his own. “Recently, I have been in the process of setting up my own business in gym instructing,” he says.

“The aim is to get more disabled people interested in fitness and to provide a specifically tailored and carefully thought out programme for the individuals. Through my own experiences I have built up a good range of knowledge in this area.”

Read more of Dawid’s inspiring story here

In other news New film collection highlights ways to apply ten principles in activities

School Dance Club Supports Active Lives, Confidence and Classroom Learning

Thursday 3 May 2018

Step Change Studios specialises in providing opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people to dance. In just one year, the organisation has supported almost 1,000 disabled people to dance, most for the first time. Recently, they worked with a school in East London to support children with additional needs to participate in a weekly school dance club. Sophie Hughes, a teaching assistant at the school shares the experience of student Ayse, and the impact dance has had on her. Sophie has written this account with Ayse.

Ayse warming up.


Ayse is 11 years old and has a diagnosis of learning difficulties, with Autism Spectrum behavioural traits. She is a caring and helpful individual, who likes to please people and make them laugh. Ayse is always keen to try new experiences, with a curious and enthusiastic nature. Ayse has limited speech but expresses herself through facial expression, body language and movement.

Ayse loves to dance and listen to music; freestyle dancing is her favourite genre. Ayse is very good at listening to instructions and copying movements once she is engaged. Ayse developed a really positive relationship with the dance instructor from Step Change Studios. The organisation understood and took Ayse’s needs and all of our student’s needs into consideration. This enabled Ayse to appreciate the musical theatre dance genre.

Ayse said she enjoyed working with her friends and other pupils in the sessions and liked doing the end of term dance performance to friends, peers and staff. Ayse has gained more confidence and better self-esteem from participating in the dance club. She enjoyed being active and moving at a fast pace. Ayse said she would like to do ‘more sessions of dance’.

An end of term performance.

According to her class staff: “this dance club increased her learning stamina and focus once she returned to class, Ayse has always been energetic and enthusiastic. Dance has had a real positive contribution into her focus back in class and listening to others around school”.

Overall Ayse had fun whilst learning the dance moves and being creative. Most of all she enjoyed participating in the club with her friends and being given the opportunity to perform.

In other news: Free Wheelchair Ballroom Masterclass with World Champion Pawel Karpinksi

Simone Illger, aged 55 shares her experiences of discovering the benefits of exercise

Thursday 26 April 2018

Our latest personal experiences story at Get Yourself Active comes from Simone Illger, who writes a blog called Flidfit which is about her journey as a disabled person to losing weight and keeping fitter.

I’ve had my disability from birth, caused by a drug that my Mother took for morning sickness – Thalidomide.  It caused unborn babies limbs and internal organs to stop developing.  As a result, I have arms shortened to elbow length with only three fingers on each hand.  My shoulder, knee and hip joints are all affected.

My disabilities have significantly impacted on my mobility.  The fact that I am able to walk at all is surprising, but the mechanics of how I walk requires a huge amount of energy and causes significant pain and discomfort in my hips and lower back.  The problems I have weren’t helped by a complicated ankle injury sustained in a head on car crash in 2002.

I have never enjoyed sports or exercise in any form.  At school, I was forced to participate in games sessions, but they were endured, not enjoyed.  In my twenties, I tried things like step aerobics, but this kind of regimented class exercise just wasn’t my thing.

In 2012 at the age of 49, I set myself a mission of losing some of the additional weight I was carrying.  I am only 4ft 9” and weighed 14 stone.  The extra weight wasn’t helping my mobility at all.

After having lost over 2 stone in a year, I wanted to introduce exercise to speed up the process.

I started gradually, initially with an hours swimming session once a week at a disabled swimming session.  I soon wanted to do more, so booked a session with a personal trainer to explore exercises I was able to do.  I bought myself some small items of exercise equipment and set up a small gym inside my garage at home.  I could exercise regularly without leaving home, whatever the weather – and what’s more, it was free.  I started to exercise for an hour to two hours about 3-4 times a week and became the most physically fit I had ever been in my life by the age of 51.  Although I found it hard to admit, I found the exercise sessions enjoyable.

Over the past 2 years, I have been getting increasing amounts of pain in my lower back and hips.  After MRI and other investigations, it appears that the problems stem from the degeneration of my lower spine caused by my abnormally shaped hip joints.  I don’t have regular ball and socket joints and the mechanics of my walking mean that muscles, tendons and ligaments are being overworked.

Supported by the consultant I am under at the Royal National Orthopeadic Hospital, I decided to try and combat the pain through non-weight bearing exercise rather than with pain killers.  I don’t take any medication on a regular basis and I would really prefer not to.

I have been trying out a special anti-gravity treadmill which is designed so that a percentage of my body weight is supported by an air-filled chamber that my lower body/legs are sealed into.  The chamber is inflated or deflated to varying degrees, so I exercise at 80% of my body weight.  I am able to move without any of the aches and pains I usually get and more importantly, I can keep walking fairly briskly for 30 minutes.

Without access to the treadmill, I struggle to walk for even 5 minutes before I need to rest and stretch my back and I am also prone to over balancing and falls.

I completely understand why people are unwilling to walk or exercise at all if they are in pain – but walking and movement are crucial to helping with that pain and to maintain joint health.  I am building up the muscles that support my whole body structure, developing the under-used muscles to take some of the strain off muscles that are over-used.

I presently walk on the treadmill once a week for 30 minutes and combine that with an hour of prescribed strength training exercise three times a week.  These exercises have been devised for me by the sports therapist at the Pain Clinic that I’ve been attending.  They target specific problem areas – my neck, hips, shoulders and aim to even up muscle imbalances.  Most of the exercises are done sitting on a gym ball or lying on the floor.  Getting on and off the floor is a good exercise in itself for me, but it is getting much easier.

In other news: if you would like to follow in simones’ footsteps and share your story with us then please look at this post for more information on what we’re looking for.   

Personal Experiences: What we’re looking for…

At Get Yourself Active we love it when people with disabilities share their personal experiences of getting active with the wider world. We have a section on our website that has an inspiring range of blog posts of people doing just that.

Some of our blog posts come from countries outside England including from Sue Kent from Wales who is featured in this photo canoeing.

 So if you have a disability or long term health condition and would like to add your own story please look at the following guidelines and do get in touch.

There are many different ways for people with disabilities to get active including ice skating. This can be done either independently or through the help of their Personal Assistants (PAs) as shown by Jonathan and his PA Mandy.

We are looking for blog posts that:

  • Have a word length of about 500 words ideally and no longer than 800 words
  • Include a brief self-biography and photos of you taking part in the activity that you’re writing about. If you do not want to show your face in the photos then that is fine
  • Have links to any social media (including videos) which you’re part of that is related to disability sports including fundraising or publicising events
  • Focus on particular benefits you’ve gained as a result of being active e.g. improved confidence and independence, weight loss, strength and balance and meeting new people.
  • If you have a personal budget and use it to get active either by directly paying for the activity or indirectly by paying for a personal assistant to take you then we strongly encourage you to write about this in your post.

Also when submitting a blog post to us please be aware that:

  • It must be related to our organisation Disability Rights UK’s vision, mission and priorities.
  • It must not contain hate speech, incitement to violence or anything unlawful, misleading, defamatory or discriminatory
  • Get Yourself Active retains the right to edit a blog
  • If you have a learning disability or neurological condition that means that you’re strongest at drawing let us know. We will accept any pictures that you send us provided that they are either in PNG or JPEG format and follow our other guidelines (not obscene etc). Don’t worry about dimensions as we can resize any pictures which are sent to us.

Get Yourself Active is a campaign that only exists in England. However, we will consider any blog posts that provide an international perspective on our campaign. And publish any ones on getting active with a disability in another country, provided that they meet our other guidelines.

If you would any further information or want to submit a blog post (or drawing) then please e-mail: Kirsty Mulvey at 

Thanks for reading and we’re looking forward to receiving some inspiring stories from you!

Blogs can be about people with disabilities getting active whatever their age! This is a picture of young wheelchair racer Maya Ratcliffe happy at Parallel London.

InstructAbility helped me learn to be me again

Thursday 29 March 2018

This week’s personal experience blog comes from Wendy Hall, who when she couldn’t find a gym she liked decided to train as a gym instructor herself

In 2008 I had a blackout and fell down stairs. I broke my neck at C5/6/7 cervical level, which essentially means everything below the break is affected and I had instant paralysis from the neck down. Some of my friends and family were always hopeful I would get some sort of recovery as I was physically fit and always did exercise, used weights and gone to the gym, but I know how lucky I am to have achieved any recovery, feeling or movement due to the level and severity of my injury.

Soon after the accident I was lying in bed, not being able to move, but still trying to work out how I was ever getting back to the gym.

I thought it would be a very difficult road ahead for me – and I was right.  Some days were harder than others with several gyms and personal medical struggles trying to hold me back. The attitude towards me was unexpected, especially from lots of staff and members who knew  me; it was like I had two heads and was contagious! I was offered no support, no alternatives or adapted induction to be able to re-learn equipment. I even struggled to enter the building, even with my partner’s support.

That’s when I decided it shouldn’t be the case for others….

I did some voluntary work with Aspire, a spinal cord charity, which led me down the path of becoming a gym instructor again after my accident. Aspire has a great InstructAbility programme which provides fitness industry training for disabled people. I used to teach aerobics classes before my accident, and so the training for me was a brilliant opportunity and helped me to feel like the ‘old me’ again.

Although my spinal injury can make things challenging at times, being active helps. Practical exercises support me with everyday functions like getting about and some flexibility, which can be challenging with my nerve damage.

While in the gym as a volunteer, I decided I wanted to start an Inclusive Circuits class when I became qualified.  I wanted to create and give more opportunities to bring more people together. It was (and still is) so apparent there are very few inclusive classes in gyms; the issues I had faced just seemed to be all too common.  Anyone is welcome to join in with us, and anything can happen. My class has been doing so well and is popular with regular participants!! There are many abilities, and we all come together to exercise and some of the transformations have been amazing for individuals.

Any top tips or recommendations?

I’d say most of all, keep looking and trying to do something you like and enjoy. Whatever you can manage today, may get you through tomorrow. Family and friends will see you through, and will help where they can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Charities for example, can offer much more than just financial support, they can help with all sorts of things. Without Aspire, who knows where I would (or wouldn’t) be today. I have a lot to thank a stubborn practical attitude, and Aspire for.

I think I had all but given up on trying to progress, so the opportunity to be supported in teaching in exercise again I couldn’t miss out on. I just wanted something to remind me of some part of ‘me’ before my accident, I could hardly remember with struggling with so many things after coming back home from hospital. I never realised how soul destroying coming home would be, but I couldn’t give up trying to find another me.

In taking on the InstructAbility gym course it set me challenges I wasn’t sure I would manage. From taking on a full course including written and practical work, and trying to manage a job as well, it was so difficult. It was exhausting and painful, physically and mentally, but I wanted to do well and kept believing I could.

Doing the gym course, with other disabled people helped me learn to be me again and have some confidence to be me again. Staff and gym users (at Portway Lifestyle Centre, Sandwell Leisure Trust) knew nothing about me, other than I was a qualified gym instructor on a voluntary placement.

Challenging myself has been the best thing, as well as the hardest. If it was easy it wouldn’t be so worthwhile.

It’s been life changing , almost literally for me.

It’s given me confidence to speak to people again, look people in the eye, learn to be in the gym exercising again and learn to enjoy being with others and be in my own skin. I had hated myself for a long time, felt worthless and pointless. I’m finding my new me, even though it’s taken about 7 years though (I’m now 10 years post-accident).

I’m stronger mentally, growing in confidence, happy to speak with others , and importantly I’ve seen I can encourage others, especially with mixed ability. To see others grow in self confidence and personality is so inspiring to me.  I’m doing things I never would have before, like outdoor rowing, and I’m taking those who want to try new things with me too.

I’m proud to have my disability now and to be able to inspire, encourage and see others grow. My journey could have been so different and, more importantly, without those who I love and live with who have always encouraged me and see how difficult it is, it was and still will be. I’m lucky and very grateful to many, but I spread lots of thank you’s wherever I can. Usually cake & a cuppa, that’s never changed.

Even though I still used my wheelchair, but it never stopped me pushing forwards.

In other news Want to help make a change in the information disabled people receive about physical activity?

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

‘Being physically active has given me back a life worth living’.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

This week’s personal experience blog is written by Danny.

I wasn’t always a sporty person but when I was fourteen I took part in school rugby tournaments. Rugby led me to weight training which quickly took over and became my passion. I realised quickly that it was because the results were all down to me. I used the gym religiously with my training partner, and even came in third in an amateur body building contest in 1995. I had high hopes of further progression having found my ‘thing’; sadly it wasn’t to be.

My life changed between 1995 and 2013 when I experienced some mini strokes and kidney damage. I was diagnosed with a condition called Antiphospholipid Syndrome (Hughes Syndrome/APS or ‘sticky blood’) which is an autoimmune condition that causes the blood to clot. This affected my fine motor coordination, particularly in my hands and it caused me to temporarily lose the ability to talk.

After a long stay in hospital and rehab I started to manage my condition. I slowly got back to a new normal although my adjustment to my impairments was not without some difficulties. I naively thought I could pick up where I left off with the gym, but soon found out I would need to relearn some old habits because of my loss of coordination and other issues.

I was initially in denial when I thought about my attitude and ability to take part in sport. I felt I could just get past my condition and go back where I left off. I decided I’d try something different instead, so learned martial arts – not the smartest move when on blood thinners.

During the Christmas period of 2012 I came down with what I believed to be a bug/flu-type illness. I collapsed on my landing and next thing I remember I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The next two-three months were a blur, bouncing from neurological ward to a high dependency, intensive care unit. My APS had become an extremely rare catastrophic type (CAPS) which means several organs are directly impacted in very quick succession.

I lost my balance, coordination and speech and I still suffer from this today. My balance was so bad I couldn’t sit on a bed initially without toppling over or falling off. I felt very frustrated as to why I couldn’t now function as I did.

Day to day things felt impossible and were often terrifying. I had to learn the things I’d taken for granted most of my life all over again.

I was pleased to learn my physiotherapy could start after weeks on the neurological ward – finally I’ll be doing something physical again! Not so. My early rehab consisted of attempting to pass a sponge rugby ball around my waist back and forth… easy! Or so I thought.

I was very fortunate to go to a brain injury rehab unit to relearn some of these functions. I often say the hospital saved my life but the rehab unit gave me a life worth living. I felt I owed it to the staff and myself to achieve everything I could there. I cried when I met the rehab consultant begging him to give me a chance as I didn’t want to live trapped how I was.

I was sure I’d just go straight back into judo, as it gives me focus and an aim. I even did a group talk on judo at the rehab unit as my personal project exercise. The reality was however that I couldn’t sit, stand, walk or do anything particularly coordinated, just small things.

I wanted to get back into physical activity and sport because I always felt throughout that it wasn’t my time to go, that I had things I wanted to do. I felt cheated by my situation, not achieving what I felt I was capable of.

My competitive nature had stayed with me throughout and I knew early on that my ‘job’ was now my recovery and this was an investment in myself. Progress was slow but I did what I was taught and asked to do – and more – because I knew I’d only get out what I put in.

At the moment I do a balance of physical activities. I initially got back into swimming because I felt safe in the water and couldn’t fall over and hurt myself there. I progressed to attending the local council gym and using the exercise bike there. I get support from a brilliant support worker who helps me set and achieve my goals. One of those goals was to take part in a studio cycling (spinning) class within a few months – which I achieved and am very pleased with.

I am back regularly in the gym now and am aware of which exercises I can do now when switching between work stations. I also practice Tai Chi which I now hugely enjoy.

On discharge I managed to find a fantastic local teacher for one-to-one lessons who also had experience of brain injury. I still attend now and the progress it has made to my day-to-day life is massive. I can now stand upright without leaning with my back against the wall and i’m no longer experiencing violent twitches. I’ve learned so much about myself and have become much more self aware.

These three activities, Tai Chi, gym and spinning, make me ‘tick’ and I love them equally. I’ve learned about and appreciate the balance in what I now do.

My advice to other people who may find themselves in similar situation is that you should find and do something you enjoy first and foremost or you won’t stick with it. Being consistent is the key, be it healthy eating or exercise. So many people start something because they read or are told it’s good, often never enjoying it then quickly dropping out. If you enjoy it you stand a chance of sticking with it.

Being physically active has given me back a life worth living. During severe illness I complained all the time that I’d looked after myself, ate well, kept fit yet this had happened so what was the point? I remember a nurse, probably sick of my complaining, simply said to me, “Have you ever thought you might not still be here if you hadn’t?”

I stopped there and then. The ‘woah’ hit me and I just got on with it.

I’d tell anyone to take part in something they enjoy doing. If you are lonely maybe join a team or club. Sport has a way of boosting people up, it’s often social, and if you stick with whatever it is long enough you will learn something about yourself. I know. I have.

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Women’s Blind Football

Wednesday 10 January 2017

We revisit the latest stage of Laura Turner’s physical activity adventures, as she delves into the world of women’s football

What is blind-football?

A blind-football team is made up of 4 players and a sighted goalkeeper.

All players must wear eye-shades and the ball contains loose ball-bearings allowing players to locate the ball when moving.

Blind-football is currently a Paralympic sport and the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) supports and organises tournaments throughout the world.

What are the benefits of blind-football?

Not only does blind-football encourage you to be physically active, it also helps to improve your listening and communication skills, your ability to work as a team, your spatial awareness and your balance and flexibility. Additionally, blind-football is fantastic for your mental wellbeing; giving you the opportunity to meet new people and improve self-confidence both on and off the pitch.

Why should girls/women get involved in blind-football?

Blind-football for women and girls was launched in May 2017 with the aim being for countries to encourage active participation, develop players and eventually to form a national team.

Football is one of the most inclusive sports out there and we are fortunate to have dedicated and qualified coaches to support blind/visually impaired individuals to become better players.

Wearing a shirt, shorts, long socks and astro shoes really isn’t that bad! It’s all about the eye-shades and ball; encouraging an inclusive level playing field.

Adaptations are currently being developed and tested to help introduce the sport to youngsters, beginners and/or those who do not wish to play as part of a larger team.

It would be great if, in time, England had its very own blind women’s team! But for this to happen we need to encourage more women, and young girls, to get involved.

From a personal perspective; I once said ‘I won’t do blind-football because I don’t do football’! I have since learnt that whilst the same principles apply, blind-football is a very skilful sport and very special to the blind/visually impaired people. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the ability to kick a ball! Even if it takes time, no one says it’s easy but, it’s the taking part that counts!

So… whether you are a sporty individual or looking for a new challenge we’d love to hear from you!

Please contact Philippa Bass for more information on 07944194252 or

Don’t knock it till you’ve kicked it!

To read Laura’s previous Get Yourself Active blogs click the links below: