I won!

I love sport.

There’s something you wouldn’t have expected me to start with. But I do. Well, some sports anyway. I am a great lover of Wimbledon tennis in the summer and I adore watching gymnastics, diving, swimming and athletics. I used to do gymnastics growing up from ages 6-12 and I also dabbled in wheelchair tennis in secondary school (it was hard to progress from dabbling when you are pretty much the only wheelchair user in a school in a small Cornish village).

But nevertheless, I think I would love to have nurtured some kind of sporting skill if my body had given me the chance, and the working nervous system that is quite fundamental to sporting victory.

But at age almost-31 I have just had my first major sporting success. The annual tournament is a family affair, previously revolving around a golf match (is it a match?) which took place at unsociably early hours on Sunday morning of the bank holiday weekend in August, and the women and children of the family occupied themselves with other activities for the day, such as making sandwiches and changing nappies until we all met up again when the golf was over and we’d have a big buffet-style tea in the garden of the previous year’s winner.

It is always lovely to see all the family in one place, and to try and remind myself of all the names of the great aunts, uncles, cousins removed, cousins’ children and second cousins etc (seriously, Great Granny, how on earth did you cope with six kids) and in recent years the sport has changed to a version of bowls (there are flags and string points markers involved but I don’t know what the actual name is. It just takes place on a bowling green with bowls balls so it seems appropriate to refer to it as bowls). Pretty much everyone in the family now gets involved, we are split into teams and play around the 8-flag course twice. Some members of the family already play bowls and so have an idea of how to throw the balls – they aren’t actually spherical and one side is weighted making it want to veer off to one side – but there is a handicap system in place allowing even novice players to be in with a chance of winning if they score highly enough.

But even with the handicap available, it still would not be a level playing field for me (insert bowling green pun here).

I have no muscle whatsoever in my hands and lower arms, any strength I do have has to come from my upper body, and the only way I can hold a ball is by relying on the tendon resistance in the extension in my wrists/hands (pictures to follow!). Even still, standard bowls are too heavy for me to lift let alone lob into the air (I mean, roll gracefully), so I play using two jacks, which are slightly smaller meaning my child-sized floppy hands can just about lift them. But even with this allowance, I would not be able to get the ball anywhere near the desired region due to my lack of strength, so I position myself about half way towards the post. Only then can I attempt to actually use some skill to get the balls as close to the post as I can, which is exactly what everyone else is trying to do.

I’m pretty sure my spacial awareness is slightly more ‘well-practiced’, than the average mum who doesn’t partake in a particular sport, simply because I have to use spatial awareness all day -steering an electric wheelchair through narrow doorways, or pushing a manual wheelchair amongst a room of small children and Duplo and trying not to break either. Also if I am trying to pick up a small item it takes a lot more concentration to persuade my hands into getting to the right place in order for something to hopefully fall perfectly and conveniently into my hands just so I can put moisturiser on my face, for example.

Well anyway, I am rambling. Cut a long story short, I won.

The family tournament which is in its 23rd year and is really a much-loved family tradition and something I hope my own children will still attend after I’m gone, I won. I scored 86 even without the handicap added, which I am most proud of. The coveted prize is my maternal Great Granny’s wooden walking stick which has been decorated with the winners’ names engraved on little silver shields since 1995 after Great Granny died.

We met at my Gran’s cousin’s house for a BBQ, feast, drinks and of course the awards ceremony. I knew I had scored quite well whilst we were playing but of course, I didn’t know others’ scores so when they announced my name as the ladies’ winner and overall winner it was a bit surreal. My first thought was “Oh shit. I’m going to have to make a speech”, and I hate talking to groups of people, and even more so when it involves speaking about myself. I’d much rather address the masses via computer keyboard where no one can hear my annoyingly quiet voice and see my awkward face. I sat for a few moments cleverly diverting attention to the kids who were playing with my prizes, all the while thinking “I’ve got to say something. They’re expecting me to say something. I want to leave now.”, but I managed a short, muddled and awkward little speech where most of what I said was trying to excuse my winning, and get across that I wouldn’t have had a chance against everyone else if I hadn’t been allowed use smaller balls and start closer to each post. Everyone clapped and congratulated me, my Gran’s youngest brother who organises a lot of it, seemed genuinely pleased that I’d finally won, after being close a few years ago. I worried some of the family might think I hadn’t really won, fair and or square but everyone seemed pleased. Tom was especially proud as was my mum who wasn’t there this year.

But most importantly, I won Granny’s Stick before my big brother.

@shopgirlygm

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The “D” Word

Five weeks ago I started the 5:2 ‘diet’. I say ‘diet’ because I hate that it is branded and labelled as a diet, fad or otherwise. I don’t want to tell people that I am dieting. I am not dieting. That would imply that I am aiming for a specific number and then the diet will end. I am changing my diet, not starting one. I won’t be signing up to Weight Watchers or similar any time soon. 

Firstly, they wouldn’t be able to weigh me. I’ve never heard of any local weight loss groups containing a wheelchair accessible set of scales. There are some dairy farms nearby though and I guess if they weigh their cattle I’d be in with a chance of wheeling myself onto their scales? It was the same story when I was pregnant. Pregnant women are routinely weighed to check their weight gain throughout the 9 months to ensure they aren’t gaining or even losing weight more than is expected. I was never weighed during either pregnancy, and I’ve yet to successfully weigh myself on anyone’s bathroom scales. It’s a bit like watching a cat trying to sit down with all four limbs on top of a fence post. Except less graceful. A lot less graceful. I think last time I attempted it was a few months ago in my mum’s bathroom and it was like a game where I sat on the scales and Tom had to position all my many floppy limbs (trying to pack away an awkward Travel cot springs to mind as an illustration) and then quickly let go in a rather rehearsed fashion where one of us tries to look at the numbers on the screen, but it’s too late as I’ve fallen into a laughing heap onto the bath mat. 

So how much do I actually weigh? Who knows. I think I weigh roughly 10.5-11stone and a UK size 12-14. The last time I was aware of my actual weight was age 15 at a hospital appointment where I was told to sit on a weighing chair. Ironically I could still stand up at this point and could’ve stood on regular hospital scales if necessary.

So pretty much from about that age, 14 years ago, I’ve battled with wanting to know how much my weight fluctuates. Like any normal woman, I want to be able to moan to my work colleagues that I’ve put on a pound or two over the weekend, or rejoice in knowing that my new way of eating is actually producing lower numbers on the scales. 

I’m not even sure where my obsession with wanting to know my exact weight comes from. I try to gauge how slim I must be by how my clothes fit and how well I feel,  which is ultimately what matters. But recently someone at work, a visitor, asked me when my baby was due. That’s not my way of announcing a third pregnancy don’t worry, I’m not actually with child right now. It’s the kind of thing you hear others saying happened to their neighbour’s cousin’s Gran’s hairdresser and everyone gasps with open-mouthed amazement. It’s not the most confidence-boosting question to be asked! The stupid thing is that even when I have been heavily pregnant people struggle to notice if they don’t know me. 

I suppose I don’t feel like I am particularly overweight, it’s the shape of my body that makes me feel and look bigger than I want to be. Complete muscle wasting in my lower limbs accentuates everything else, and my back curving in makes my belly stick out. Muffin tops are only the beginning of my issues! This is my frustration though. As a wheelchair user who has little use of their arms and hands, for exercises that other wheelchair users might be capable of (rowing, tennis, wheelchair racing etc) and no use of my legs, getting fit and maintaining fitness in order to sustain muscle tone is pretty difficult. On top of that (I’ll be done soon, don’t worry), not being able to burn off calories I’ve consumed as easily as the next show-off able-bodied person with all their working limbs, means I get an instantaneous guilt every time I eat anything that isn’t a lettuce leaf. 
So exercise and sports are things I’ve always been desperate to pursue and have some sort of skill in. I did gymnastics for 6 years as a child, to retain some level of strength and fitness. I gave up at 12, stupidly, and it bugs me that there was nothing after that. Secondary School didn’t encourage me, in fact they suggested i didn’t do P.E. with my peers! I’d really have cocked up their league table results now wouldn’t I! 

Those of you who are reading and whom don’t know me might be thinking ‘er, wheelchair basketball is quite popular at the Paralympics I hear. And there’s that swimmer with no limbs who manages not to sink, what’s your excuse?’ And you’d be quite right (if a little bit blunt) but I live in a fishing town in Devon. It’s not teaming with opportunities for alternative accessible sport to suit all abilities. And even if I lived somewhere closer to those opportunities, I get reminded then that my body is sadly lacking in useful muscle and nerve function to carry out such sporting endeavours.

So that brings me back to eating less. My my, this is a jolly upbeat blog post isn’t it! 

I see the 5:2, or intermittent fasting diet as the only realistic way of being able to still eat things that I enjoy and lose a bit of weight. Mainly that extra abdominal surface area that isn’t welcome unless it is carrying a small human! There’s minimal calorie counting to be done. And it’s easier and less stressful to stick to the same few foods on the fasting days so once you’ve worked out what you want to  eat on those two days, calorie counting is unnecessary. Win win. 

It seems to be working I think, I feel less rotund in areas, and don’t feel like I’m going to murder someone because I’m not allowed to order yummy takeaway food at the weekend. I can have tea and cake with my best friend and not feel guilty and that I’ve let myself down.

My next mission is to become the next Tanni Grey-Thompson. Okay… Maybe a bit ambitious! 

Follow me on Twitter @shopgirlygm 

  

Sedated 

You’re given this body. It’s a bit squishy but all the parts are there -arms, legs, eyeballs, ear loabs, that pointless snot-funnell under your nose – there you have it, it’s yours to do with what you will for the rest of your life. 

So what do you do with it? If you’re lucky you’ll get one without too many snags or software issues but if you’ve been handed a wild card and aren’t quite sure, where do you go with it then?

Perhaps abuse it a little at first, break some parts as a kid then they’ll heal quickly with any luck, and when you get to your later teenage years and beyond, feed it some sugary poison and see what happens. 

Then what? You might be doing some of the same things as other kids your age and some things will make you momentarily feel as free as a bird. Like jumping on a trampoline in your purple club leotard that makes you feel really special. There’s nothing better as a child than a lycra leotard. You just want to stroke your own shiny belly and feel like you have a perfect body like all the other girls. [That sentence sounded a lot less creepy before I wrote it]. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long, that freedom. Nope. It stops fairly abruptly and in some respects it feels more unfair than if you’d never had it in the first place. Nothing tragic happens, but the wiring in your body starts playing up and affecting you more than ever. You’ll be sat in the car one day on the way to the beach with your mum and you might suddenly notice that you can no longer move your little finger. Buh-Bye then. It was nice knowing you. That’s all ten then now!

Maybe a few lunchtime sessions of wheelchair basketball in school will be a fruitful endeavour. You do really enjoy throwing a smaller-sized ball in a lower-set basket. You get ‘Most Improved Player’ after a few months and then remember the irony that is the inevitability of earning this title when the only other player in a wheelchair, playing on the opposing team, is a kid borrowing another wheelchair. Now you feel like you’ve truly earned that sporting title (!) 

Fast forward a few years and almost every day, without exaggeration, is peppered with thoughts of ‘I wish I could do more exercise’. Trawling through YouTube videos searching for inspiration and finding absolutely nothing. Disabled people don’t exercise. Only the people in the Paralympics. And they are robots. Manufactured in a factory in Milton Keynes and made to order every few years to prolong the excitement of the Olympics. They don’t exist because there are no opportunities for this sort of talent to be nurtured. Or maybe it was just my luck. In the new term of starting secondary school, I was told I ‘wouldn’t be doing PE’. So that marked the end of any potential skill or ability to keep fit I may have had if anyone had bothered to try like they do with other kids. I never got to smell the school changing room sweat or be the one that put all the javelins back in their… javelin cage. 

And so the time comes around again where all thoughts of your body, skills, appearance, fitness, weight etc, are not dissimilar to that awful feeling you get when you walk into a noisy bar and there’s too much raised-voice ranting for normal people to be able to think straight and you’d quite like to turn around and walk out again. Then you see yourself sat in a chair and looking decidedly lazy and know that something needs to happen. 

Your best bet is to sit on the floor in your living room and make up exercises that are possible yet still a challenge for someone with no muscle in their legs or lower arms. Making up hybrid exercise routines is necessary because like I said, disabled sports do not really exist. You either do nothing or you go the whole-hog and break world records in stadiums. There is no in between for people like me.

Then you take your little girls to gymnastics and watch the eldest in her session, from the viewing area thinking:

“Please, please want this as much as I want this for you. You are perfect and you have all these opportunities right at your feet and you can be brilliant, so please use it. Use these opportunities and your body and your strength and all these people telling you you’re doing really well. Don’t ever stop doing it. Whatever it is.”

And that goes for all of you.