Alt text: a rolled up, pink yoga matt, a pink foam yoga block & a pink yoga strap pokes out of an open blue sports holdall, laying on a grey carpeted floor.
Happy New Year! So, let’s talk exercise – because we’re all supposed to be in the gym in January, right?!
This month features my first guest blogger, my former colleague Natalie South-Law. Ta da! I’m really proud to announce this! I feel like my blog has ‘come of age’, so to speak.
I briefly covered the challenges of understanding the importance of keeping physically fit, but not knowing how to do that when you’re also disabled in my Breast Cancer Now IG Story Takeover in October 2021. I spoke about what I can do which is basically swimming, yoga & light gym exercises.
But as I’m someone who had to stop PE at 14 because I was running the 100 metres & getting slower each year, I thought it would be an idea to hand over to Natalie who’s passionate about supporting disabled people to exercise & making exercise accessible. Here’s what she says:
‘If you had told me as a child that I would be writing a blog about how integral to my life as a disabled person exercising and sport is, I’d have thought you were mad!
That’s because back in school. PE and fitness was never really something I enjoyed, was on my radar or actually was even included in. I went to a mainstream school through my whole education.
In primary school, I would be taken away from the class when it was time for the PE lesson, and have to do my physio instead with the support worker.
As a disabled adult, I wasn’t getting any regular physio or medical intervention, but I was still riding, that one consistent movement activity, just now at a non-disabled school. I went to watch the Para Dressage at the 2012 Paralympics in Greenwich Park.
This was a huge turning point for me. People like me, doing sport!! Now I’m not saying all disabled people want to be in the paralympics, as that is simply not true. What I am saying is that it was so nice to see that representation.
Alongside all of that, there was also discovering the gym, and how enjoyable, and fundamental, strength and conditioning training is to me as a disabled adult. I spent a number of years trying to find an accessible gym and a Personal Trainer who had an understanding of disability, and this was quite an arduous process. Luckily, I found a PT who was willing to work with me, despite not having any previous experience of working with disabled people, and we learnt together. I worked with him for just over 6 years, and learnt so much. I probably would advocate more towards finding someone with experience of working with disabled people, but I’m definitely glad I took the risk, as I have seen such an improvement in my impairment with regular movement. Now I take part in an adaptive CrossFit class with Alt Movement, which has been great, as the coaches adapt the movements to suit the individuals, and it’s so good to surround myself with other disabled people. If you are in Essex, definitely recommend checking them out!
I have developed so much, not only physically, but mentally too through my fitness journey over the years. I soon realised that it’s a process and not an overnight fix, and this has been really important in building up the habit.
All my workouts complement the sports that I take part in (wheelchair basketball and shooting), but they also help with managing my impairment, and, as boring as it can be, I make sure to include stretching in every session.
I think one of the most important things for me with discovering sport and movement has been the support networks I have surrounded myself with, including my family, friends, workplace and sporting colleagues, and peers with Cerebral Palsy. I also think having myself as my biggest inspiration is really important to me – as big headed as that might sound! I have developed a drive to always do better, but equally as important, to not compare myself to others. Everyone is on their own journey and will have different goals, so that is a big reason why I use myself as my own inspiration. And setting those goals with my coaches has always helped with my drive. I think it’s so important to recognise that disabled are actually able to have goals and aspirations, just as non-disabled people.
I think the biggest thing for me that has got in the way is lack of representation. As a child, I didn’t know any other disabled children, I didn’t see disabled people in the media, so I didn’t really know what I was capable of, as I didn’t see myself represented. Of course, sport isn’t for everyone, and I think that I was lucky in that I enjoy it.
Also, ableism was a huge factor too. Not being able to do something “because I’m disabled” was a big part of my childhood. In 2017 I completed a half tough mudder, which is a good example of this mindset shift, as I definitely wasn’t sure if it was for me. BUT not because I was disabled, but because I wasn’t sure about the mud!
If you are reading this and you are a disabled person, I hope it has encouraged you to get out there and see what you are capable of. It’s important for me to end this by saying movement looks different for everyone, and that’s okay! It’s more important to be safe, and work out what is a suitable goal for you. If, like me, you were excluded from PE as a child, any form of movement would be enough to make our younger selves proud!’
Natalie South-Law is on instagram as @itsthatgirlwithcp
its.wheelie.nat on linktr.ee
@ItsThatGirlWithCP on twitter
Alt Movement can be found on https://www.altmovement.co.uk/