On the whole, humans don’t like change — adapting, coming to terms with and accepting change are all common processes we go through. However, over the past four years it’s safe to say I’ve come across more than my fair share. Facing change is hard, frustrating and at times, extremely testing.

Perception of disability has certainly altered in recent years. In my mind the London 2012 Paralympics did the most for its positive identity, bringing it into the public focus (or is this just because that’s when I had my accident and it opened my eyes to disability?).

Before my life changed, I was perhaps not so matter of fact about life, or as accepting or in tune with approaching someone with a disability in the same way as any other.

It’s as simple as a passing smile at someone in a wheelchair, helping take their shopping to the car or getting an item off a shelf, but it can mean the world to them (something I’ve now experienced).

Using my chair at work

It’s not a case of pitying someone that’s in a chair, in fact quite the opposite. It’s about approaching them like you would do any other person — the chair doesn’t mean they’re any different.

Did I previously think that everyone who is a wheelchair user surely can’t walk or stand? Yes. This is something I’ve recently battled with since I gained the ability to be upright on crutches. Why should I use my chair if I can stand on crutches? What will people think? The list goes on…

For me, it’s a huge mental battle, mainly due to being too damn right stubborn. You could say it’s what’s helped me to regain my independence and a huge level of normality, and that is probably true!

Me and my inspirational friend Zoey (who I met in hospital four years ago)

However, I’ve taken it to the other extreme, which has had a knock-on effect on the rest of my body, due to continuously compensating and twisting. It’s also left me with an increased amount of pain, fatigue, strain and weakness. Ultimately this hasn’t help optimise my performance in the arena (mentally and physically).

Challenge accepted

It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with the effects of pushing my body to the absolute limit recently. So the time has come to have a rethink of ways in which I can make my life easier and think of myself as more of an athlete. This has not only been spurred on by myself, but also by the World Class team, my home team practitioners and the realisation that if I don’t have a strategic plan to help myself, then a few years down the road it is going to have had a major knock-on effect on my body.

The improvements in my position

I was going to perform a “cheeky wheelchair challenge” as a new year’s resolution starting in January, as suggested by World Class Sport psychologist Jennie. However I started right away after the idea was hatched at my last squad training. No time like the present!

The challenge was ultimately centred on breaking down my mental barrier of using my wheelchair in different places and making it fun and slightly cheeky along the way. This is to give me more confidence using it in work, in town, with friends, and so on. There were so many thoughts running through my mind — what will other people think? Will people think I’ve taken a step back or I’m giving up? How will work feel about me using my chair in pharmacy? And will people chat to me in the same way (something I struggled with previously when I was in a chair)? Should I really care what other people think? Human nature can be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Having Jennie as a voice of reason has helped enormously. We’ve turned around the way in which I am looking at using my wheelchair, thinking about it as the key to aiding my performance, giving me freedom and looking at the long term overall picture and embracing it, rather than resenting it. I’m never going to lose the old me, I’m just learning to use it to my advantage.

With my work colleagues

Needless to say, it’s already making a huge difference to my energy and pain levels. I have inevitably come across barriers along the way, however, more often than not it’s made my life easier and everyone’s been incredibly helpful and more importantly very understanding. Not only that, but in particular at work my chair has been a huge hit. I’ve even been showing off my wheelie skills — let’s just hope the health and safety manager doesn’t walk in! My friends have been putting my chair through its paces and so has my nephew Jack (he even mastered wheeling it himself).

My nephew and I checking the youngsters at home over Christmas

I do regret not using the chair before now in some ways, but I wouldn’t have got to where I am today without pushing limits and refusing help from people.

Continued below…

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I’ve also made the decision recently to reduce my hours working at B&W Equine vets to two days a week, in order to help give me more time for training, and more time to rest.

At my work’s Christmas party using my chair

How about setting a challenge for yourself this year? Perhaps performing a good deed here or there. It doesn’t have to be based around helping someone with a disability, but I can assure you that it will open your eyes to the world around you, and it might well give you a boost. It could also make a heap of difference to someone else and how they feel and it will go a way to helping to continue to break down the various stigmas laid down by the world we live in.

“The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new”

“One Year = 365 opportunities. Don’t count the days, make the days count”

Suz