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How I'm Facing Adversity and Finding Success as a Paralympic Athlete

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I don’t often open up about my disability other than to explain what it is and give a brief rundown of how it affects me. I think that’s because it’s always there, and while it does impact me on a day-to-day basis I think of myself as a person first and foremost. My disability is a big part of my life, but it’s a factor that has no bearing on whether I make a success of it.

I’ve got something called complex regional pain syndrome. It’s a neurological condition that causes chronic pain in both my feet all the time. Living in pain isn’t always easy. In fact it’s draining on so many levels, but I deal with it by focusing on all the things I can do rather than the things I can’t. I find that this mentality allows me to live life on my terms and achieve all the things I want to achieve.

I was diagnosed with CRPS when I was 16 after struggling with it for five years. This was a difficult time and if I’m completely honest it crushed my self-esteem. The world places so much value on outward appearance and I… well, I was broken. I didn’t fit within that blanket ideal of physical perfection. I was different, and different is sometimes a lonely way to be. I worried that people would treat me differently, that they wouldn’t be able to see past my crutches and wheelchair and discover the person beyond. I was petrified that the big plans I dreamed about would no longer be achievable. That my life was over before it had even begun.

It was sport that helped change these perceptions about myself. Taking up archery on my 15th birthday and finding something I was good at started the long process of repairing my shattered confidence. And getting involved with the Paralympic movement was life-changing. I had this real wake up moment in Beijing 2008 — out there I saw the most incredible athletes achieving spectacular things despite their disabilities. This was my turning point. It put my problems into perspective and I started to accept myself for who I was rather than who I wanted to be.

Learning to become more confident and develop a stronger sense of self-worth wasn’t easy, but it was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. Sure, there are things I find challenging and there’s stuff I find harder to do because of my disability, but this mentality has allowed me to realize my potential is limitless. I am deserving of success and worthy of making meaningful connections with others.

Yes, I have bad days and I hit stumbling blocks, but ultimately my disability has shown me how strong I am mentally. That no matter how big the hurdle in front of you there is always a way around. It’s taught me to be creative, patient, persistent and resilient – skills I can apply to any dimension of my life.

We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we see them. Learning to develop a positive mindset can open the door to possibilities. Positive thinking isn’t about denying there is a problem – it’s choosing to redirect your attention to the good stuff instead of dwelling on the bad. I believe challenges can be overcome with the right kind of thinking; it’s about believing that you are a match for any obstacle in your path and pushing until you get through.

We always have a choice, even when we’re faced with adversity. It’s not what happens to us, but how we choose to respond to that situation. We can give up or we can pick ourselves up. Taking ownership of the situation and focusing on the things you can do something about puts the ball back in your court.

I believe a disability does not stop someone from living a meaningful life or achieving success in many fields. It doesn’t define who a person is, nor what they are capable of. We all have strengths, we all have weaknesses, and we all require varying degrees of support to achieve our goals. And we can all be unstoppable when we get our mindset working for us rather than against us.

Pushing through adversity isn’t easy. It can be a very lonely place, but remember you are never alone. Your support network is there to help, offering encouragement and guidance. They can help you manage your emotions, act as a sounding board to bounce ideas off and hold you accountable for actions you decide to take. I can’t begin to explain how many people have helped me (and still do!) through the challenges I’ve faced in my life, giving me a fresh perspective and allowing me to tackle life and live it on my terms.

Originally published: December 27, 2018
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