An inspiring teenage showjumper who dedicates her time to educating children about hidden disabilities has won a WellChild Award.
Evie Toombes, who also mentors other young people with disabilities, met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex ahead of the award ceremony at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London on 4 September.
The 16-year-old from Lincolnshire was born with spina bifida, which has left her with a number of other serious health issues.
Her condition causes pain and affects her lower leg strength, bladder and bowel and she also has a gastric tube as her stomach struggles to process food.
She has spent a lot of time in hospital, recently being admitted as an emergency and spending three weeks as an in-patient soon after she won a national title at the Riding for the Disabled Association national championships (13 to 15 July).
Despite the challenges, Evie’s motto is to “find a way, not an excuse”.
“The atmosphere at the awards was absolutely incredible,” Evie told H&H.
“There were about 400 people there and everybody was so supportive of each other, it was a really good vibe.”
Her idol, Nick Skelton, recorded a surprise video message to say congratulations on receiving the award.
Evie, who visits schools to talk about hidden disabilities and has written a children’s book on the subject, was among the winners and VIP guests who met Prince Harry and Meghan.
“They were lovely and had a lot of time for everyone,” said Evie. “This isn’t part of their job — Prince Harry is a patron of the charity and this is something he does in his free time.
“They knew about everything — Meghan said that she knew I wrote a blog and she had a good read through my book. It was really nice to be able to give them a copy and they took it with them. They spoke to my brother as well and asked me about my horses.”
Evie, who is a member of the South Wold Hunt North branch of the Pony Club, has been talking to schools for the past three years.
“I started when I first became open about my condition and I realised there are lots of others with different conditions [that you cannot see],” she said.
“The first time I did it I went back to my old primary school and I was really nervous. Nobody had any idea [about my condition] and I didn’t have a nasal tube.”
Her book, titled Lucy goes to school, is inspired by Evie’s own experiences and based on her dog, Lucy, who had a problem with her back legs and bladder control.
“[In the story] nobody realises there is anything wrong with her, but she cannot run as fast as the other puppies and everybody feels sympathy towards her,” said Evie, explaining how she uses the book when she speaks to children.
“Then I relate that to people and explain that this happens in real life and I tell them about myself.
“My mum and I have been drawing the sketches [of Lucy] when I’ve been in hospital over the past two years,” she said. “When I end up in hospital I’m there for months at a time and drawing is something we love doing.”
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Evie’s mum Caroline explained her daughter’s aim is to get the book into every primary school in the country.
“Education at this tender age can change young people’s lives as understanding improves confidence and learning,” said Caroline.
“I believe that these young children will actually educate their parents on hidden disability.”
The last pages of the book explain Evie’s “Education.Not.Discrimination” campaign, to end judgement on hidden disabilities.
Evie is heading to the Arena UK major showjumping championships this month to compete with her mare High Offley Business Centre (“Daisy”), and will be presenting the puissance prizes.
The Toombes family is also fundraising to build a specially-equipped horsebox to allow them to cope with Evie’s medical needs.
Caroline added they are “so proud” of Evie’s achievements.
“We really hope that winning this WellChild Award will help fuel her campaign to educate more young children not to discriminate against people with hidden disability and encourage children with illnesses like hers to take up a hobby they love,” she said.
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