LIFESTYLE

'Disabled By Polio, But Enabled By Determination': How Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike MBE Can Inspire Us All

30/07/2014 17:30 BST | Updated 01/08/2014 15:59 BST

As part of our month of determination, we're showcasing inspiring individuals who have shone in the harsh light of adversity.

And if anyone deserves to be shouted about, it's Anne Wafula Strike.

The Kenyan-born British Paralympian is the first wheelchair racer to compete for East Africa, has an MBE pinned to her lapel, is a very proud mother and a dedicated mentor.

At 45, Anne has had her fair share of highs and lows, but her courage, determination and optimism is something we can all learn from.

anne wafula strike

After contracting polio when she was just two years old, Anne and her family were forced from their community by superstitious villagers.

Growing up, she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle that she often felt like an outsider ("while my friends wore short skirts and heels, I wore polio boots") and she found everyday tasks, such as walking from classroom to classroom, a huge struggle ("life moved at a different pace, I'd take 40 minutes to walk 100 metres").

Fast forward to 2014 and her current hometown of Harlow, and the day-to-day obstacles haven't changed much.

Anne has since been diagnosed with below T7 paralysis, and faces similar problems to back in Kenya, such as other people's ignorance around her disability, difficulty accessing buildings and wearing certain clothes.

"When people see me in my wheelchair they automatically feel sorry for me," Anne tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "But while I may be disabled by polio, I am enabled by my determination."

anne wafula strike

Anne is currently working with the British Polio Fellowship to challenge the way people look at polio and to raise awareness for polio and post-polio syndrome (PPS).

She recently showcased a designer dress designed to fit the needs of a wheelchair user - surprisingly, it is the first design of its kind.

"Many shops fail to cater to the needs of people with disabilities," she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "Jackets get caught on my push rims or mud guards and trousers get caught on my wheels."

"I love myself and, as a woman, I want to feel sexy. I don’t want to look like I’m a poor girl in a wheelchair wearing a rag or piece of cloth."

She says that with the current offering she is often forced to make alterations herself.

"I often have to shorten things, particularly summer dresses," she reveals. "But I’m not a seamstress and I often mess up the hems.

"This shouldn’t be happening in this day and age."

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Thankfully, Anne is determined to change the fate of people with disabilities.

Through her work as a mentor, Anne provides practical advice to people with disabilities and their family members.

"I take young disabled people under my wing, to empower them. We talk about a lot of things, from integrating in the community to relationships."

And, as a world-class athlete, she is also committed to getting better access and awareness to fitness and exercise.

"When I was younger, no one knew what to do with me. I wasn't included in sports and used to spend my extra-curricular time in the chapel playing the piano."

It was only when she moved to the UK, and saw wheelchair racing on television that she realised such a physical feat was possible.

"I saw these beautiful women in their racing chairs on television and I just knew I had to be one of them," she said.

Anne started working out in a gym that was able to cater to her requirements and introduce her to sports for people with disabilities. She went from someone who knew nothing about the sport to training nine to ten times per week and holding the British records for 100m and 200m.

Now she is using her achievements as a platform to inspire and educate others.

Where, in the face of such adversity, does she get her strength and can-do attitude?

"I would lie if I said I was positive everyday," she admits. "I have three things going against me: I'm disabled, I'm female and I'm black. I could easily sit down and cry, but I try and make things positive."

"But I think I got my strength from my faith, my father and becoming a mother."

Anne is currently working with The British Polio Fellowship, to raise awareness for polio and post-polio syndrome (PPS).