THE BLOG

My Muscle Wasting Condition Didn't Stop My Paralympic Dream

02/11/2016 18:14

2016-11-01-1477998102-6404124-GettyImagesStephenwithball.jpgPicture: Getty Images

Having to grow up with a muscle wasting condition sounds drastic; shortened life span, unable to lift everyday objects such as a kettle full of water or even carrying two bags of shopping home. But for me this is life, this is what I know. Would I change it? Not a chance!

I was diagnosed from birth as having a genetic condition called Muscular Dystrophy (MD). MD is a degenerative genetic disorder which weakens skeletal and internal muscles. Currently there is no cure although medical interventions such as ventilation or physio therapy can slow the condition from progressing as quickly.

My family knew I had the condition pretty much straight away as my older brother Peter had also been diagnosed. It was clear from an early age that I walked differently from my peers, I fatigued quicker, and I couldn't run very fast. But these were not seen as negatives. My parents encouraged me to get out and play football with friends, climb trees (or at least I tried) and generally be active. My parents had much more knowledge of the condition than I did; I wasn't interested in knowing details. I was happy running around with my mates.

It was into my teenage years where I found the biggest difference in my condition. My hip muscles began to weaken so much that it dislocated every time I sat down. I used to fall a lot more and couldn't quite keep up with friends as much as I used to. Due to these issues I followed the general pathway of the majority of individuals with Muscular Dystrophy and began using a powered wheelchair to mobilise. I'm often asked, "It must be difficult having once ran, jumped and climbed to now becoming a full time wheelchair user." But this is far from the case! I now use an Ottobock wheelchair which allows me to not only keep up with friends but go much faster than them without fatigue. I can carry more bags on my wheelchair than I could being ambulant and I am generally much more able.

I became fascinated with the Paralympic games after watching Sydney 2000 (around the same time I began using the wheelchair). I had loved watching and playing sport growing up and I saw this as an avenue to do what I love at the most elite level. Little did I know at this stage what impact it would have on my life and condition.

I met a wonderful lady called Jacqueline Lynn who had worked in disability sport for many years. She encouraged me to try this Paralympic sport called Boccia. Boccia is a precision target sport similar to bowls which is played by athletes using a wheelchair. I began to train a few times per week in between studying Retail Management at Glasgow Caledonian University. It didn't take long before I knew this is where my future lay, this sport was my ticket to accomplishing my dream of attending the Paralympic Games.

From 2005 - 2008 I was able to travel the world competing. It led me from Portugal to Brazil as well as a couple of trips to Canada. I came so close to qualifying for the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008 but had to relinquish my slot for the host nation who didn't qualify in their own right. As gutted as I was to miss out on my dream and, the added blow of the retirement of my coach Jacqueline after the Beijing Paralympics, I still remained passionate about my sport and my goal of competing in the next games.

My new target became London 2012 - a home Games! I owe much of what came next to my coach Jim Thomson who took my skill level up a notch. Under his guidance my brother, who had joined my journey as my pair's partner, and I had become European Champions and then Double World Silver medalists the following year. My dream was within touching distance. I needed to remain healthy, keep my standard high and focus on my goal. On April 2012, we received the confirmation that I would become a Paralympian. Not only that, my brother had also been selected. We had secured the only two available slots within Great Britain.

Since then I've continued to set new goals within the sport. My fascination with the Paralympics has grown stronger than ever. I've been privileged to travel the world representing my country and being able to compete at the top level for 12 years. I've been lucky enough to win European titles, 10 British titles and I'm the current World Champion.

Through training so much the degeneration of my condition has slowed down dramatically. Ok, I still can't lift heavy objects and struggle with everyday chores. But would I have been able to do this had I been able to lift a kettle or carry my two bags of shopping home? Not a chance! Yes there are everyday challenges which come with being disabled. These are the cards I've been dealt, this is what I know life to be. It's been incredibly tough at times, but like sport, would it be worth doing if it was easy?

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