What were your New Years’ resolutions this year?
Like most of the country, mine were all the usual: get more sleep; drink more water; spend less time in the pub and more time in the gym. Perhaps more unusually, for the first two decades of my life, I never imagined I would set foot in the gym – let alone make a habit of it.
Like many people with OI, I spent most of my school PE lessons sitting at the side, or reading in the library. I notoriously received my best mark for PE during the term when I never turned up for a single lesson – the teacher simply never found out who I was!
Although my parents were great at taking me swimming and tricycling, and my mum very bravely even let me attend ballet classes, by the time I was 19 and using a wheelchair full-time, I had come to accept that fitness and sport simply wasn’t something I ‘did’. As a coxswain for my university rowing club, I spent a lot of time around athletes, without ever attempting more than physiotherapy myself – only ever sitting on a rowing machine for comedy photos. Although I still swam, I chose to swim at antisocial hours, too self-conscious to risk being spotted by non-disabled peers.
Fast-forward to the Brittle Bone Society’s 2015 VOICE weekend, at the Calvert Trust activity centre in Kielder, when I found myself having a go at sports including archery, clay pigeon shooting, and even abseiling. Trying out new sports alongside other OIers was a huge confidence boost; back at uni, I joined a wheelchair racing club, where I made a great bunch of friends and a great pair of biceps. Although I’ll never be a Paralympian (I’m no Jack Binstead or Jordanne Whiley!) I got so much more confident about my own ability to exercise – to put strain on my body without it fracturing – that when I graduated and moved to London, I did the unimaginable: I joined a gym.
Passing the ranks of tall, non-disabled gym bunnies when I turned up for my induction session, I was really nervous. What if I broke something? What if I wasn’t able to use any of the machines? Worse – what if everyone stared?
My induction session really put me at ease. I explained OI to the personal trainer, and he worked out which machines I could use, and which exercises would be most helpful. Although I was initially embarrassed about having to use all the machines on the lightest setting, I soon became more comfortable – after all, it’s better to work up a sweat lifting the lightest weights, than never to work up a sweat at all!
After a few weeks, I realised I actually felt less ‘stared-at’ in the gym than I do in the supermarket; other gym-goers were more interested in their own fitness plans (and often their own reflections!) than in staring at anyone else.
I’ve now been a member of a gym for three years. I gym, swim, and attend group yoga classes, adapting the poses to suit my abilities. Although I still sometimes feel self-conscious, I know better than anyone what I can and can’t do. Regular exercise helps me with fatigue and bone pain, makes everyday pushing much easier, and is really beneficial for my mental health. As long as I’m keeping myself fit, I don’t mind who sees!
Exercise is great for our bones, and great for our minds. You don’t have to be a Paralympian, or use any fancy equipment or wheelchair – you don’t even have to join a gym (although if you would like to, membership is often subsidised for disabled members). Why not talk to your local gym, leisure centre or doctor about what exercise could be suitable for you – or visit www.parasport.org.uk to find a parasport club in your area.