How I'm Reaching for the Sky With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is a charity set up in 1983 as a living memorial to the indomitable spirit of Group Captain Douglas Bader.

Their mission is to inspire disabled adults, building their confidence, self-esteem and future aspirations through the sharing of life-changing aviation experiences, and that’s exactly what they did for me, a disabled mother of three from northeast Scotland.

I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic condition that means my body lacks collagen, resulting in hypermobility, chronic fatigue and extreme joint pain. As a result of the EDS, I also have fibromyalgia, arthritis and Reynaud’s phenomenon, meaning I am in daily pain and struggle with mobility and mental processes.

It took me nearly a year from first hearing about FSDP to finding the courage to send in my scholarship application. Looking back, I can’t understand what took me so long, but at the time I struggled with the concept of being, or identifying myself as, “disabled.” I felt that this meant I was taking something away from those who were, in my eyes, “truly” disabled.

Amazingly, my FSDP application was successful and I was invited to attend their selection course at RAF Cranwell, where I spent three days with some amazing people with various disabilities, from deafness and hemophilia to tetraplegia. I came away inspired and forever changed but never expected to be chosen, so was absolutely blown away when I was awarded a scholarship from the RAF Charitable Trust.

Before my scholarship, I was reluctant to be seen as disabled and avoided using my wheelchair or mobility scooter locally. I also struggled with self-confidence and anxiety, meaning I rarely went out alone and was often too anxious to even drive into my local town.

But in June 2016, I attended and successfully completed my three week flying course at an airfield in the Cotswolds, over 500 miles from my home, family and friends.

The whole process of learning to fly and being so far out of my comfort zone was extremely daunting, but it seemed to completely reprogram my brain! When you are taking off in an aircraft, you can’t start worrying about the landing, so it taught me not to overthink things and take everything one step at a time. That process has helped me manage my anxiety, and knowing I can fly an airplane has given me the confidence to challenge myself with other things.

Since taking on my scholarship, I have written for a local magazine, set up my own crochet business, Kinneddar Crochet, and even co-hosted a live radio news program — none of which I would even have thought about for a second before FSDP. My biggest achievement by far though was to travel abroad to Malta with my husband for the first time since becoming disabled. While challenging, snorkeling in the Blue Lagoon is something that will stay with me forever.

This year I was back at the Royal International Air Tattoo to join this year’s and my fellow scholars at the charity’s Annual Presentation Ceremony, where I was honored to receive my “pilot’s wings” by FSDP’s Patron, His Royal Highness, Prince Faisal Bin Al Hussein of Jordan and the RAF’s Chief of Air Staff.

I cannot even begin to put into words the difference Flying Scholarships for Disabled People made to my life. They have literally opened the doors to my world and given me back everything my disability had taken away from me and more. As a disabled 50-year-old wife and mother who was dependent on my family’s care for 18 years, being able to take my husband and kids flying has to be the coolest thing I have ever been able to do, and something I will be forever grateful for.

So if you are reading this and wishing you could have the same life-changing experience, the best advice I can give you is not to wait a year to apply. If my story can inspire just one disabled person to apply for a scholarship, I will be very happy. Once you reach for the sky, life is never the same again.

To find out more about Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, visit their website. Closing date for this year’s applications is 30th November. You can also find FSDP on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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