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My Path to Becoming an Adaptive Athlete and Record-Holding Strongwoman

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So I did a thing! Something I have wanted to do for years but never had the support or encouragement to do, in fact, I have had quite the opposite. I was told, “Girls are not meant to be stronger than boys.” “It’s not natural.” “You will look like a man.” For years, I believed it.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
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Fast forward to two years ago when I met my coach, my husband, and my number one fan. From day one he supported my dream, so training was underway. He had known me for a while before we became a couple as we worked at the same charity, teaching people with physical, mental, and learning disabilities. I have been disabled for years and fought every attempt to make my life easy by giving me mobility aids because I felt like I was giving in. My sprains, pains, and subluxations because of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome were getting worse and then I started with hemiplegic migraine because my body just needed to add that into the mix.

My contract ended suddenly at work and overnight I lost the teaching job I loved. But instead of feeling sad, fighting to stay strong, getting another job, and risking making myself worse, I was encouraged and supported to stay at home and let my body recover by my family. My body had been running on empty for so long that I had a full-scale burnout. Yet, due to my own stubbornness, I refused to give in. In hindsight, I should have stopped work years ago, but the fight to keep food on the table for my girls was my main priority.

Then the pandemic hit and training stopped. No gyms were open and our date nights at the gym became nights of frustration and inventing! We moved to a remote farmhouse to improve my health, surrounded by mountains, wildlife, and amazing scenery. We found somewhere that was big enough for me to have my own outdoor gym. Our nearest gym is over an hour away as we live so remote. Plans turned into progress, and we invented items to replicate things from the gym out of waste products we found on the farm. It became my lockdown gym. But, in all truth, it was a gym that was here to stay at our home. It was staying, so I didn’t have to suffer through the car journey in pain, and as soon as I got a little bit of energy (which is rare as I mostly have to stay in bed) I could just go outside and do something, even just one thing towards my goal.

It soon became apparent that my goal of competing in strongwoman competition, alongside able-bodied athletes, was never going to be, due to the lack of physical time I could train because of my illnesses. When I did, the pain was abhorrent, and recovery was slow. Never the one to be beaten, I looked into strongwoman competitions as a disabled athlete. I found very few, but they were there and they were with people who struggled with fighting their own body, just like me! I reached out to various associations and gym owners, as well as competitors, and found them all welcoming and wonderful. These people were like me and took part in strongwoman or strongman events as adaptive athletes. This is what I had wanted. I had found where I belonged.

I trained when my health conditions let me. I cried in frustration and pain many times, but at least I had a focus. A focus away from the pain. I had every intention of giving myself until next year before I went to compete. We went to watch the British Disabled Strongman event and loved every second of it. The atmosphere was electric and the athletes were welcoming and encouraging. Little did I know when I went to the event, I would be entering my first competition as an adaptive athlete just three weeks later!

I was scared. These athletes had been competing for ages and been in training for far longer than I had! Nevertheless, I got my membership with the association and paid my entry fee within days of returning from the British Championship. I told my family I entered, and they too were so supportive. They told me not to waste the little energy I had trying to do housework, but instead concentrate on doing something for myself. So I did a little training as often as I was able. I had doubt in my mind that my conditions or my body might let me down on the day, or that I might not lift as heavy as the other athletes, but at least I was going to give it my best shot. If nothing else, I would be living my dream, competing in a sport that I thought was beyond my “broken” body.

Car packed with medications, essential family support, food, wheelchair, and we were on our way to the competition! We arrived extra early, and so my coach went and arranged a warm-up session to help with my nerves. The officials were so kind and accommodating that it made me want to cry! I was able to face the competition now, with a clear knowledge of what was expected.

By just being an athlete in this competition, I became one of the first disabled athletes to compete in the very first adaptive powerlifting competition, for this association, worldwide. I not only won my class, but I also now hold three world records! My family and friends are so proud of me. I have started out on the path now and intend to keep going, health permitting. I enjoyed the day, met some lovely people, and made some new friends. My disabilities have kept me at home and isolated for far too long, even before lockdown.

I will continue to fight the good fight. Knowing I have people like me at the end of my phone is just an amazing feeling. I am no longer alone.

Please never think your dream is out of reach. Take stock, find support, and go for it. You have got this!

Originally published: October 19, 2021
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