With Olympic and Paralympic fever still in the air, everybody seems eager to try their hand at sports. The story of Paralympic swimmer Heather Frederiksen is one to inspire the sportsperson inside all of us.
Before her accident in 2004, Frederiksen enjoyed success in open water swimming. She was then told that the accident would end her career as a swimmer. However, Frederiksen was determined to return to swimming one day and succeeded in the Beijing 2008 Paralympics. She competed in five swimming events, obtaining medals in four of them: bronze in 200m individual medley; silver in 100m and 400m freestyle and gold in 100m backstroke. Frederiksen returned to the pool for the London 2012 Paralympics, gaining more success for Team GB: gold in 100m backstroke and silvers in 400m freestyle and 100m freestyle. But it’s not just about medals: it’s about inspiring a new generation of sportspeople.
Another story set to motivate is that of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, who was born with congenital absence of the fibula in both of his legs and undergone below-knee amputations before his first birthday. This would be likely to put most people off competing in sports but even during childhood Pistorius competed against able-bodied peers in sports such as rugby, water polo and tennis. He became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics in summer 2012.
Pistorius’ passion for sport continued into adulthood and most recently in competing in the men’s 400m and 4 x 400m relay race in London 2012 Olympics. And competing in the Paralympics, he won silver in 200m and gold as part of the 4 x 100m relay. Pistorius proves that even when a task may seem impossible there is always a way to make it achievable; you will never know if it is possible until you try.
I’m not going to lie and say I have achieved success like Pistorius or Frederiksen or that you yourself will enjoy successes as huge as theirs; but what you and I can attain is self-accomplishment. Overcoming your own so-called weaknesses will leave you with unexplainable amounts of satisfaction that only you can find and succeed with. I have a joint condition called Hypermobility, which is an invisible illness – in simple terms it enables my joints to move with more flexibility than a normal person’s. This may sound like nothing and to many people with the condition it results in no negative symptoms. However, other sufferers may have difficulty with everyday tasks, as when joints get over-stretched due to their weakness, they’re very prone to injury and this in turn causes chronic pain.
I firmly believe in the fact that a condition should never define somebody. In the case of myself, I don’t think that because my body finds things more difficult I should stop trying to push it to its limits. Recently I embarked on a three-week Outward Bound Classic Course and it was the best three weeks of my life despite the pain; I just have to concentrate on the outcome. I think it is important to always challenge my body and prove to myself that I am capable. There will be one day when I might not be able to do crazy amounts of outdoor activity and I never want to say, “I wish I’d done…” so now is the time to do it. While I still can, I will hike and climb and paddle to my heart’s content. Pain is just a feeling which will repair. Regrets, however, will not.
If somebody ever tells you you can’t do something I challenge you to prove them wrong because when you realise your own capabilities there is no going back; you will be forever looking for the next challenge.