Enquire recently chatted with Samantha, who became a wheelchair-user two years ago following an accident. She told us about the physical challenges she faced, what it was like going back to school and how she dealt with the reactions she received. Samantha’s story is an inspiring one.
Having overcome initial difficulties and adjusted to her disability, Samantha has discovered a talent for wheelchair-racing and inspirational speaking. Her ambitions include becoming an athlete, going to university and raising awareness about disability.
“Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t do it ‘cos you can, you really can. You can do greater things than able-bodied people sometimes.”
You can listen to the podcast with Samantha here or you can read the transcript of what was said here:
Linda: I’m in the Scottish Borders today talking to a young person who’s just gone into her 6th year at school. She is also a wheelchair-user. Sam, you’ve not always been a wheelchair-user.
Linda: Tell me a bit about that.
Samantha: An accident occurred 2 years ago, which has left me paralysed from the waist down.
Linda: Were you in hospital for a long time?
Samantha: I was in hospital for exactly 6 months.
Linda: 6 months. That’s a long time. At what point during that 6 months did you find out you weren’t going to walk again.
Samantha: I found out that night of my accident on 2nd December.
Linda: So almost instantly.
Linda: So how did you deal with that in the midst of all this?
Samantha: I kind of dealt with it different to a lot of people. I never cried about my accident. I just kept saying, ‘It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine’ covering it with my smile which I find easier to do than letting it all out. I find it easier just to hide it, which I know isn’t the best thing to do but I find it easier.
Linda: What kind of support did you get when you were in hospital and recovery?
Samantha: Well I was in physio from 9 o’clock in the morning till 4 o’clock. Constant physio. My Physio was really, really good with me. She took me to a lot of sport and things, to loads of different things, to broaden my thing about disability. And she told me about writing a book and writing about how you feel which has helped a lot. I have a book at home that I write in whenever I feel a little bit down, whenever I feel I’m not quite happy. I just write and that helps me.
Linda: Excellent. What would you say was the most important thing to you during that period of time?
Samantha: Everyone else in the hospital because they’re all in the same boat and there’s even people..and they’re across the bed from you..and they’re a lot worse off than you. And that makes me feel so thankful that you can move your hands at least and you can move your neck. Some people can’t even talk which makes you feel very thankful.
Linda: What would you say was the most difficult or challenging part of that time?
Samantha: The physio was quite hard. I was told at the start, ‘The physio’s going to be really hard’ but I don’t think I could understand how hard it was going to be. It’s like standing every day and I had to do callipers, which is like you sweat as soon as you stand up. It’s really sore on your hands. Learning to push a wheelchair. It looks really simple to some people but it’s actually quite hard when you first get into it. I bumped into a lot of doors and stuff!
Linda: So building up a lot of strength.
Samantha: Yeah, I did a lot of gym work in the mornings. Just to be able to lift myself. I wanted to be independent so I had to do a lot of work to be able to transfer in the cars and things like that.
Linda: You must have missed quite a bit of school during that time so how did you manage to keep up?
Samantha: I missed a lot of work. In the hospital they sent me a tutor but because I was in rehabilitation all day and you’ve got people screaming all night you don’t get a lot of sleep so it was hard to keep with that. There was a man in the hospital at the same time as me and he was a PE teacher so he taught me my PE Standard Grade. I managed to sit 3 of my exams- PE, Maths and Drama and I got two 2s and a 3. When I came back to school I got tutors and I just took a lot of work home to fill in because I was going to miss a lot still with going to hospital to get check-ups.
Linda: There must have been changes that had to be made in school. Were there changes or did you find coming back to school was a fairly easy transition for you?
Samantha: I was lucky because we’d just moved into a new school so the lifts and everything were all there. It was really good. I had to go on a course for the e-vac chair, which is a chair that takes you downstairs if there’s a fire alarm.
Linda: So no real changes in the classrooms.
Samantha: Just tables as well because some are narrower so you can’t fit right in. Or they’re too high so you have windy-down chairs.
Linda: So all these things were put in place for you. Would you say it was easy or hard to fit back into school? Even thinking about friendships.
Samantha: It was hard on that kind of thing because I was scared to come back ‘cos I’d kind of got it into my head that people wouldn’t want to be the same around me. When I did come back at first everyone stared a bit, even though they all knew what had happened to me. They still stared. They were a bit cautious about speaking to me.
Linda: So do you think that was hesitation on their part because they were unsure?
Samantha: Yeah. I think they were unsure how I was coping with it. My close friends they were fine ‘cos they came up to visit me in hospital but other people weren’t sure how I was taking to it. They were just a wee bit hesitant towards me but after a few weeks they were completely fine.
Linda: What would you say were the main issues that face a young person who is a wheelchair user in a school?
Samantha: Obviously the fear of coming back and seeing people who haven’t seen you or seeing people you knew might take the mick out of people. You know they might be talking about you. I had it once. Someone said something about me and everyone ganged up on him and everyone was like, ‘That was horrible’. Nobody stuck by him and said,’Haha, that’s fuuny’. Everyone was, ‘That’s disgusting’. I was really lucky. My whole school is completely behind me. But I can understand how hard it is. When I first broke my back, I was like, ‘I don’t want to go back to school’. I didn’t want people to see me like this. I didn’t think people would accept me. I wanted to go to a school that had everyone in wheelchairs so I was the same as everyone else but my friends just said to me, ‘No, you’re coming back!’ I got no choice!
Linda: You’ve always, I’ve heard, been interested in sport. Maybe that’s changed so what kind of sport did you used to do?
Samantha: Gymnastics, ballet, hockey. I ran a lot. I really enjoyed sport. In the hospital, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if there was any sport. I never watched the Paralympics. There is no-one in my school that’s disabled so I didn’t know of anyone who’d done disability sport but my Physio took me to a club in Glasgow- Red Star- that does wheelchair racing. I remember watching and I was,’ That’s amazing! I want to do that! I want to do that!’ So after I got out of hospital I went up to visit them again. I tried to get into the team.
Linda: So you had a trial?
Samantha: I said to the coach, who’s now my coach that I’d like to get into wheelchair racing. I really want to do something and I knew that sport made me smile before my accident and I knew it would make me really happy. So he got me into a racing wheelchair. This is my second time and my first with a proper coach and he just said to me, ‘ You’re in. You’re in the squad’. He just said I had a natural ability for it. I believe now I was born to do my wheelchair racing.
Linda: Ok, you’ve told us about your ambitions in your sport. What are your plans and hopes for the future?
Samantha: I hope to obviously compete. I want to be an athlete full-time but I’d like to also do…I enjoy the counselling side…Psychology. Hopefully, I’ll get to go to university and do Psychology and go into counselling. Possibly if I’m able to do my racing constantly I’d like to do inspirational talking. I go round schools the now..primary schools..and I talk to the kids and things. I’m a believer that kids should be taught about disability younger because kids are gonna stare but they’re staring because they don’t understand that we’re just the same. All they see is they’re different and they don’t like that because they’ve not been taught that they’re just the same, It’s just their legs don’t work which makes them no different. Nothing wrong with their brains. Their legs, their arms, maybe their whole body doesn’t work. It doesn’t make them any different. So I’ve been going around schools just teaching them about my sport. They really like seeing my chair. I call my racing chair Molly ‘cos I speak to it at the start of races and I say ‘C’mon Molly!’ I like naming her. And they really enjoy seeing it and they get really interested and they ask lots of questions. They love learning about disability. They just love it.
Linda: So you’re breaking down barriers.
Samantha: I’d love to go round primary schools and do that.
Linda: Do you see any barriers to achieving all these goals that you have?
Samantha: Emm…not really. My dad’s always told me that if ever I want to do anything then I can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. I don’t think there’s anything…nothing.. that able bodied people do that I can’t do. I maybe just do it differently.
Linda: Do you think the experiences of the last couple of years have changed you as a person in any way?
Samantha: Yeah, I think they’ve made me stronger. I don’t think I’d be the person today if it wasn’t because of my disability. I’m very proud of my disability. I’m very privileged that I’ve had the chance to be disabled and get a chance to go to the Paralympics. I don’t think I would ever have got a chance to go to the Olympics. Yeah, I’m proud of my disability.
Linda: So, final question. If you were to give any advice to another young person who maybe found themselves in similar circumstances to you, what would the advice be?
Samantha: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t do it ‘cos you can, you really can. You can do greater things than able-bodied people sometimes.