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It took me 17 years to fall in love with my wheelchair

Being handed the iconic Paralympic torch was a surreal experience.

Pride surged through me as I set off in my wheelchair, clasping it tightly.
Surrounded by people cheering, I felt the excitement, hope and inspiration radiating from everyone.

Back in 2012, aged 17, I was a Paralympic torchbearer. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

It was also the first moment I truly realised that I could say I was disabled and feel no sadness.

I was born with cerebral palsy, and I got my first wheelchair at the age of six. It’s a kind of comfort to me that it’s all I’ve ever known.

But when I was younger, I struggled with people staring and asking intrusive questions, like what was ‘wrong’ with me or if I could have children one day.

I became used to saying sorry to strangers if I thought I was in the way, then questioning myself over whether I was apologising because I felt ashamed or embarrassed.

It felt like all I could see at this time was what I couldn’t do – all because I am a full time wheelchair user.

This started to change when I became involved in wheelchair sports around the age of 10 through a charity called Go Kids Go. It helps young people in wheelchairs become more independent.

Through that, I got introduced to sports like wheelchair basketball and rugby, which showed me that I could channel the negative feelings I had about my disability into something positive.

That I could relate to other people who had similar experiences, rather than punish and isolate myself for them.

Sure, I had the love of my family, but until I found wheelchair sports, I didn’t have anyone in my life that had first-hand lived experience of being disabled. So the ability to meet people with similar experiences meant I didn’t feel so isolated.

Through them I learned that ‘different’ isn’t bad, ‘different’ is joyful.

When most kids learned how to ride bikes, I met other children in wheelchairs and we practised popping wheelies together. It felt amazing to be around people who were so similar to me.

It was the first time I remember feeling like I was understood. That I belonged.
When I was 15, I became a volunteer for Go Kids Go – I still volunteer for them today. Through this, I was nominated by them to be a torchbearer.

It was a pivotal moment for me when I started to reshape how I saw my life in a wheelchair.

Swapped resentment for appreciation.

Of course, I do still have tough days, and I’m learning – even into my late twenties – that my journey to acceptance isn’t linear. Sometimes I’m highly aware of what I can’t do, like being on the sand at the beach, or having to plan extensively around places that have an accessible toilet.

Still, when I’m feeling down, I make sure to remind myself of all of the things that I can do in my wheelchair. Travel, make friends, spend time with old ones – live a happy life. If it weren’t for my wheelchair, I couldn’t have attended family events, like weddings, for example.

It’s incredibly powerful when you realise that the tool you once thought was limiting could be used in such an empowering way.

I’m also lucky to be in a relationship with someone who fully accepts me. We met online when I was 27 and he is with me through the hard times and the good. I know I can fully be myself and that I would never be judged, just loved unconditionally.

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One thing that really changed my perspective on my disability was focusing on gratitude and joy. I always knew that I wanted to help people, and if my experience could help someone in a similar situation feel more confident and happy, that was enough for me.

Through my volunteer work, it’s always such a magical thing to see a disabled child grow in confidence and come to realise that their chairs are tools to be utilised.

That being said, I don’t consider my life to be tragic or inspirational. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of my disability anymore, nor do I feel it makes me exceptional or anyone to be looked up to.

I want people to know that my wheelchair is not my enemy. It’s my sense of freedom to appreciate and to be a part of the world.

Yes, I’m used to people staring, but one thing I know is that my life is not to be pitied. Sure, it can be hard at times, but this life has more joy than I ever thought possible.

While my wheelchair may look limiting to others, it’s a tool that boosts my confidence, joy and independence.

It’s something that, today, I wish to give thanks for, rather than resent.

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