Happy New Year! And a happy, positive new-blog post to get the year started.
For this post I wanted to focus on keeping active, and swimming – and this has been the one I have been most looking forward to writing! We were always an active family throughout my childhood, and DDH did not get in the way of that. However, walking has never been easy for me so swimming quickly took over.
The hydrotherapy that followed my operations is my earliest memory of being in the water. From the dead/heavy weight of a cast, and then the seemingly even heavier weight of trying to get my legs to work again, water provided me some freedom and a chance to move without any restriction. It had both the physiological benefit of enabling me to learn to walk again, and, because I enjoyed it so much, a major psychological benefit. A photo of me sat on poolside a couple of months after coming out of plaster will always be one of my favourite photos and sums up everything – one of my bright red scars is very much there as a visible reminder, but it did not get in the way of a smiley younger-self because I was, quite literally, in my happy place. My love for swimming is one thing I am so grateful to DDH for, because it shaped the rest of my life and has been part of my happiest memories and experiences.
I joined my local club shortly following my operations and made my way through the swim school and into the squads (quicker than I should have thanks to my first coach understanding that I would never do a breaststroke kick properly – and I still can’t!) I found that rather than DDH dragging me back, it actually put me ahead of my peers because I had developed a strong upper-body to compensate for my legs (which can quite clearly be seen in that picture of me age five!). My early competitions and medals, even at club level, and then becoming county champion aged 10 against ‘able-bodied’ (although I don’t like to use that term) competitors will be some of my proudest moments. Yet it did make it all the more harder to accept when I got overtaken at about age eleven by the rest of my peers who could use their legs properly. It was then that I was introduced to Paralympic sport and regained my confidence by competing with those of the same ability. I got to travel the world both for training camps and competitions with people who have grown to be some of my closest friends. During the last five years of my career I was training twenty-four hours of week both in the swimming pool and in the gym, and this hard work paid off with a number of medals, , and competing, at a home Paralympic games in 2012. However, such work did take its toll on what is essentially an arthritic condition. I retired in 2015 not quite having achieved all that I wanted, but happy that I had definitely proved wrong those who said as I child that I wouldn’t be able to do any type of sport.
However, I do not want to just talk about my journey and what I wanted to stress through this blog-post is the key benefit that sport and keeping active has had on my physical condition. I have always been lucky at only four-foot eleven but I have also spent the majority of my life active and, especially in the last few years, devoted a considerable amount of time to doing physio and gym exercises to develop and build the right muscles to help stabilise my hip joints. Such work has resulted in a certain amount of leg strength and stability that I shouldn’t really have, and also a strong core, both of which has aided my general mobility a lot. Whilst I would perhaps not advocate the intensity of my previous training and would always advise getting medical opinion, I would encourage leading an active life with DDH to build muscles or strength (and my surgeon and those I consulted about my hips have always been very positive about my swimming career too). It is also the key thing I am most grateful to my parents for; it must have been difficult to not wrap me up in cotton wool but they really did the complete opposite and encouraged me to be active and get into sport – even if this did mean watching me flail about doing hand stands in a slippery paddling pool!
Today, I still swim as regularly as I can and do a lot of low-level exercises on my lower body and HIIT workouts to maintain fitness and general strength but ensure that I do not over-do it. I also have found a bike to be another activity that has given me another sense of freedom. However, I know from experience that some activities won’t work out, and swimming will not suit everyone and I, for example, always came last on school sports day (and there was probably something a bit cruel about given the kid with an uneven gait the egg and spoon event!) BUT there will be something out there for you. I went into sport for enjoyment and a sense of achievement and all these things are possible, regardless of any international sporting career. My advice to all living, and growing up, with DDH is to always seek some form of medical advice, but don’t be afraid to try out different sports and activities.
Why not make 2017 your year and do something you were told you couldn’t do or that you yourself didn’t think was possible. I will be joining you as I have entered the Great North Swim to raise money for DDHUK. I am also not the first to set myself a target for 2017 as Gemma Barber, an active member on the forum, has set herself the challenge of walking the Wirral coastline in June. Don’t go too big at first and pick something that won’t over-do it and is achievable for you. I, for example, have chosen to do a swimming challenge because I know that I can swim the distance but the open water element is something brand new (and slightly scary!) Equally, this does not exclude anyone going through operations throughout this year, as you can set your own personal targets in relation to your recovery. Remember all achievements are relative, do not compare yourself to others, and never forget how far you have come. Yet, most importantly, don’t let any negative comments hold you back, believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid to chase your dreams.
Happy New Year, and wishing you all a positive and happy 2017!
I will be keeping you updated on my journey to the swim event in June and would love to hear from you too.