Recommended Reads

Since we’re all still stuck at home, twiddling our thumbs, I thought I’d suggest some reading material for you. The six books I have chosen focus on the themes of disabilitymental health, positive thinking, overcoming adversity, trauma, and recovery.
(Left - Right) 'Defiant' by Janine Shepherd, 'Wheels of Motion' by Justin Brown and Lucy Hudson, and 'True Grit and Grace' by Amberly Lago
(Left – Right) ‘Defiant’ by Janine Shepherd, ‘Wheels of Motion’ by Justin Brown and Lucy Hudson, and ‘True Grit and Grace’ by Amberly Lago

‘Defiant’ by Janine Shepherd

A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing this former Olympic hopeful who beat the odds and transformed her life after suffering a horrific accident. Janine Shepherd radiates energy, enthusiasm and an endearing wit. Her memoir is a must-read!

‘Wheels of Motion’ by Justin Brown & Lucy Hudson

Some of you may know that Lucy is a good friend of mine. Like me, she is a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user with a form of muscular dystrophy. ‘Wheels of Motion’ is a poetry anthology unlike any other. If you live with a disability yourself, I highly recommend you check this out! (Available on Amazon).

‘True Grit and Grace’ by Amberly Lago

Amberly Lago is another remarkable, kind and generous woman I was able to interview following the release of her memoir, ‘True Grit and Grace: Turning Tragedy into Triumph’. Fitness fanatic, Amberly’s life was turned upside down following a debilitating motorcycle accident in 2010, leaving her with significant nerve damage and lifelong chronic pain. She now devotes her life to helping others.
(Top Left - Right) 'Things Get Better', and 'Beautiful'. (Bottom) 'Start Your Day with Katie'. All by author, Katie Piper.
(Top Left – Right) ‘Things Get Better’, and ‘Beautiful’. (Bottom) ‘Start Your Day with Katie’. All by author, Katie Piper.
Acid attack victim, Katie Piper, is now a well-known media personality, activist, documentary maker, charity founder and mother. She has achieved so much since her brutal assault in 2008, which left her partially blind and with full thickness burns. Katie has endured over 200 operations and invasive treatment to ensure her recovery. She really is a true inspiration! I read Katie’s first book, ‘Beautiful’, around eight years ago. It’s a real eye opener! Yes, it is shocking and distressing, but also incredibly motivational. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

Muscular Dystrophy Q&A

1. What is it?

Muscular Dystrophy is an umbrella term for a group of muscle diseases.

There are nine forms (see image above), which then divide into many more sub-types.

The various forms of MD differ significantly in which areas of the body are affected, severity, rate of progression, and the age of onset.

Some are born with the condition, while others do not display symptoms until adulthood.

2. What causes it?

A faulty or mutated gene. It is therefore, a genetically inherited condition.

If one or both parents have the mutated gene that causes MD, it can be passed on to their children. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the children will have the condition. But they may be carriers.

I have a rare form of congenital (from birth) MD, which is an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning you inherit two mutated genes, one from each parent – as shown in the image below.

Congenital Muscular Dystrophy ~ Autosomal recessive inheritance
Congenital Muscular Dystrophy ~ Autosomal recessive inheritance

I am the only known member of my family to be affected by muscular dystrophy. My unaffected parents (both carriers) had never heard of the condition, and so, it was a huge shock to receive my diagnosis at the age of 4.

3. What form do you have and how does it differ from other types of muscular dystrophy?

I have a rare form of congenital (from birth) MD, called Ullrich.

I wrote a whole post about my life with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

But in summary, it is slowly progressive, causes joint contractures, and does not affect the heart or intelligence.

4. Can people with MD have babies?

The simple answer is YES! MD doesn’t affect fertility in any way.

My good friend Fi Anderson has a rare form of MD, and is a mother to two daughters, neither of whom have MD. Check out Fi’s blog here!

5. Can a baby be tested for it in the womb or only after birth?

Prenatal diagnosis is possible for some forms of muscular dystrophy, but not all. Non-invasive testing can be carried out from 7 weeks into a pregnancy.

If one or both parents are carriers of a particular muscle-wasting condition, there is a risk the child will be affected.

It is advisable to contact a geneticist for further information and guidance.

6. What do you wish people unfamiliar with MD knew about it?

I wish there was much more awareness of the condition, and the fact that there are many varying forms.

Sadly, many people haven’t even heard of it.

Furthermore, those who have tend to associate it with Duchenne (the most common form).

Almost every medical professional I’ve encountered throughout my life has assumed I have Duchenne, which goes to show the lack of familiarity and education.

There is a lot of information, research and charitable funding for Duchenne MD, which is fantastic. But, there is very little for other forms, which is, I have to admit, rather frustrating.

This means that people living with lesser-known forms, that are just as debilitating as Duchenne, do not receive the same support.

7. How has your life been impacted?

UCMD impacts every part of my life.

I became completely non-ambulant at age 10, and I now use a powered wheelchair.

I have severe contractures in all of my joints (knees, hips, elbows, wrists), and a severe scoliosis (curved spine). As a result, my balance is very poor.

UCMD affects my respiratory function. 7 years ago it became necessary for me to use a BiPAP machine (non-invasive ventilation) nocturnally.

For me, a common cold can very quickly develop into a serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia (which I’ve had numerous times).

I experience chronic fatigue due to the progressive muscle-wasting and my squashed torso, which prevents expanditure of my lungs.

Illustration by Jessica from The Disabled Life ~ http://thedisabledlife.ca/
Illustration by Jessica from The Disabled Life ~ http://thedisabledlife.ca/

I try to live as “normal” a life as possible, having attended university and learnt to drive (though this is no longer possible as my condition has deteriorated).

8. Pros and Cons of living with UCMD?

The cons of my condition are mostly listed in the previous answer. The most bothersome of these are the respiratory decline and chronic fatigue.

You might think being unable to walk would be the most frustrating thing. And while I do wish I could walk, jump and run, this has never really bothered me all that much. It is what it is, and you learn to adapt.

The pros I would say, include the network of people I have in my life, people I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for my condition.

I have made some amazing friends through blogging and living with muscular dystrophy. For this, I feel incredibly fortunate and thankful.

Other pros include my Motability WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), blue badge for free parking, and being able to skip to the front of the queue at tourist attractions!

My Motability WAV
My Motability WAV

9. Has it changed/got worse over time?

Yes, my condition is progressive and life-limiting. My symptoms have got worse over time.

The term life-limiting can, understandably, be scary for many to hear. While I don’t expect to live to be old and wrinkly, I have no plans to pop-off anytime soon!

After all, if you’re a smoker you are limiting your life expectancy!

As a child, I could walk short distances wearing custom-made leg splints.

Joint contractures and the severity of my scoliosis has increased.

My lung function is significantly worse as an adult.

10. What are some of the common misconceptions?

There are many! Here are just a few assumptions…

I have family members with the same condition (I don’t).

I can’t have children.

I can’t have sex or a loving relationship (some even assume I wouldn’t want to).

Many assume I can walk, even when I try to explain I am completely non-ambulant.

People think I take lots of pills and potions – if only there was a miracle cure! I’d take it in a heartbeat.

For more examples, check out this blog post I wrote all about societal preconceptions related to being a wheelchair-user.


Related Blog Posts:

Muscular Dystrophy | A Guide For Parents

My Life with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy

Scoliosis | Why I chose not to have a spinal fusion

Lockdown | Positive Thinking

I’ve read many trivial complaints on social media about the Coronavirus lockdown.

From park, pub and salon closures, postponed gigs and concerts, to cancelled botox, filler and wax appointments. Some are even moaning because they can’t race around and show off in their flashy cars. What a shame!

I appreciate we all have our own interests, outlets, coping mechanisms and methods of self-care. We all want to look and feel our best, and we all need somewhere to escape to.

But please, let’s try and keep things in perspective.

The current situation isn’t permanent. Of course, it’s tedious, stressful and frustrating, and will impact some considerably more than others. But it will pass and “normal” life will resume.

People on the frontline are literally risking their lives to help others – complete strangers. They are physically and mentally exhausted, yet keep going.

Carers continue to support the most vulnerable in society, despite the risk.

Key workers carry on working to ensure society functions and people are provided for.

On the upside, lockdown provides an opportunity for families to unite, spend quality time together and talk more.

But for others – men, women and children – being stuck in close proximity, unable to escape, can be a living hell.

The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since lockdown began!

We all have problems and we are all entitled to feel and express what we need to in order to get through these trying times. Your experiences and frustrations are valid.

But please, keep in mind the medics, carers, key workers, the elderly, disabled, those living with domestic abusers and those separated from their loved ones.

Try to appreciate what you do have – for example, your health, home, and hope for the future.

When you’re feeling low, maybe write a list of all the positive things in your life and focus on that rather than the things you are currently missing out on.

Quote from Bob Dylan, "keep on keeping on"
Quote from Bob Dylan, “keep on keeping on”

Coronavirus | Thoughts from a Disabled Pixie

Needless to say, we are in the midst of uncertain and unprecedented times.

Photo of a card reading, 'keep hanging on in there' (left) and a medical face mask (right).
Photo of a card reading, ‘keep hanging on in there’ (left) and a medical face mask (right).

Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with the latest news regarding Covid-19; on the TV, radio, newspapers and the Internet.

While most is factual information from reliable sources, there is also plenty of unhelpful rumour and speculation, particularly on social media.

Personally, I don’t find it beneficial to watch the News three times a day, unlike my folks!

We all know by now what we should and shouldn’t be doing to limit the spread and keep ourselves and each other safe.

Guidelines on social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Guidelines on social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Why add to the stress and anxiety? I’d rather focus on other things; happier things!

Of course, the situation affects everyone in some way; domestically, financially, their work, education, physical and mental health.

This is an incredibly frightening time for many, myself included. I am considered high-risk, since I have a progressive muscle-wasting condition that affects my breathing.

A Friendly Reminder from a Delicate Little Pixie

Though we all must now adapt and change our way of life somewhat, it’s important to remember this is only temporary. Things will improve.

I’ve heard people complain about the restrictions; mostly young, fit, able-bodied people. Yes, it’s a pain in the fat ass! But it isn’t forever.

Funny meme about the Coronavirus featuring the character Jay from The Inbetweeners.
Funny meme about the Coronavirus featuring the character Jay from The Inbetweeners.


Also, please be aware that many disabled and chronically ill people are repeatedly forced into prolonged periods of self-isolation throughout their lives. Plans are often cancelled last minute due to poor health. This isn’t new to them.

So, before you complain because you can’t go out partying with your mates, or to the pub, please consider those for whom limitation and isolation is a way of life.

Final Thoughts

Show your thanks and appreciation for the NHS and those working in health and social care.

Illustration of NHS healthcare workers being saluted by Superman.
Illustration of NHS healthcare workers being saluted by Superman.

Be mindful of the most vulnerable in society, and help out if you’re able to.

Print-out for those wanting to help anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19.
Print-out for those wanting to help anyone self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Please don’t panic buy or stock pile. This isn’t the apocalypse, people!

Where possible, please support local businesses.

Be sensible, be safe, be rational.

This too shall pass…

International Women’s Day

To celebrate #InternationalWomensDay, here are some motivational words of wisdom from just a few of the many inspiring women throughout history.

These women advocate equality, inclusion and disability awareness.

Above: Deaf-blind American author and political activist, Helen Keller (1880 – 1968).

Above: Rosa May Billinghurst (1875 – 1953), was a women’s rights activist known as the “cripple suffragette”. She suffered polio as a child and, as a result, was left unable to walk.


What International Women’s Day Means to Me

Light is often shone on independent career women and high-profile personalities; celebrities, public speakers and so-called ‘world changers’.

Of course, these women deserve our respect and applause. But I’d like to also draw attention to the “ordinary” every-woman.

These are the women we are not aware of. We don’t know their names or their stories. These are the women behind the scenes who just get on with life, however challenging.

The single mum’s.

Those living with debilitating conditions and struggle to get out of bed each morning.

Those caring for multiple family members, who don’t have the option to go on holiday or pursue a career.

Women who are relied upon by disabled children and elderly relatives, and have no support or recognition.

Many suffer and struggle in silence. They simply get on with their lives without any fuss or complaint. These women deserve to be celebrated too!

They play a vital role in society – one that takes endurance, tenacity, strength of character and sheer grit. It takes a special kind of person to achieve this.

So remember, you don’t need to change the world to deserve respect and recognition. Being loved unconditionally, appreciated and making a difference to just one person is EVERYTHING!


Related Blog Posts:

International Women’s Day 2018

Interview | The Trailblazing Women of Muscular Dystrophy UK

Interview | Author Amberly Lago

True Grit and Grace: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Former athlete and professional dancer Amberly Lago suffered a horrific motorcycle accident in 2010, which severed her femoral artery and shattered her right leg almost beyond repair.

Despite her debilitating, life changing injuries, Amberly has transformed her life and is now a fitness trainer and motivational speaker, inspiring thousands with her resilience and ability to thrive.  

In her remarkable memoir, ‘True Grit and Grace’, this Texas girl instills hope to keep moving forward by sharing the tools and strategies that have worked for her.

The determination, defiance and gratitude she demonstrates encourages readers to find resilience in their own difficulties. By refusing to give up, Amberly has admirably commited herself to regaining her active lifestyle, thereby proving it is possible to hit rock bottom and still find the strength to get back up.


1. Amberly, could you please tell us how your disability affects you and how you continue to cope with ongoing, chronic pain?

Following my motorcycle accident in 2010, I was diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. CRPS is known as “the suicide disease” because it causes constant chronic pain. It’s ranked highest on the pain scale and has no known cure. When I was first diagnosed, I was told I’d be permanently disabled and wheelchair-bound.

At first I lived in denial and pretended nothing was wrong. Behind my smile, I was dying inside from physical and emotional pain. Everything I read about CRPS left me feeling hopeless. Still, I continued moving forward, despite the feeling of a vice grip on my foot and battery acid through my veins. I tried every kind of treatment for my pain, including a spinal stimulator, nerve blocks, ketamine infusions, Eastern and Western medicine, and anything that claimed it could bring me relief.

It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I had CRPS and what I call my “new normal” that I began to show myself the self-love and self-compassion I needed to start to feel better. I wish I could tell you I found some magic pill or movement that relieves my pain, but the truth is, every day is different, and so are my pain levels. What works some days doesn’t always work the next, so I just keep trying, and doing, and praying.

When I am in pain, I go through my list of helpful tools. There is no particular order.

I practice mindfulness, meaning I do whatever I can to stop thinking about and focusing on my pain. I surround myself with positive people. No more doggy downers, only puppy uppers!

I count my blessings and practice gratitude.

I give myself permission to rest on a flare day and remember that I am doing exactly what I need to do. I am recovering.

I eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

I am on a sleep schedule (and yes, this means that I have an alert on my phone that tells me when it’s bedtime).

I am still learning to meditate.

I breathe deep breaths.

I pray.

I do everything I can to be of service to others. When you focus on the well-being of others, your self-pity disappears as you improve the quality of someone else’s life.

Then I repeat. Instead of allowing my pain to make me bitter, I do my best to appreciate everything I have, no matter how big or small. I will focus on the good in my life and let that be my medicine.

2. You endured incredibly trying times prior to your motorcycle accident, including parental divorce and sexual abuse. How has maturity and resilience helped you since your accident?

I learned from a young age to “cowgirl up” because at the time, there was no alternative. Dwelling on why reality wasn’t prettier wouldn’t have done a thing for me. It would have crippled me then, preventing me from achieving everything I wanted to and crippled me years later when I was actually crippled, preventing me from choosing nothing less than recovery. As weird as it may be to say this, I believe the pain and isolation I felt in those difficult times as a child were an ironic blessing of sorts. When you know from an early age that you’re on your own and can rely only and entirely on yourself, it’s as liberating as it is sad. But if you can take the sadness and self-pity out of it, then what you’re left with is a liberating sense of freedom—and, when trauma strikes, you don’t waste any time looking for someone to bail you out.

3. How and why did you choose to ignore and defy the doctor who abruptly told you that you would never function normally within society, not walk again?

Call it my stubbornness or my love of a good challenge or being in complete denial, but I wanted, more than anything, to chase after my daughter like a mother should and be free to do the things that make my heart sing, like hiking and exercise. Just because my body was “broken” on the outside, I was still the determined athlete on the inside. I learned to truly listen to my body and to be the healthiest I could be, despite my circumstances. We may not get to control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. So, getting on with my life was a series of three steps up (to the degree that I could take steps) and six steps back, both physically and emotionally. Every one of my surgeries, that totaled 34, I viewed as bumps in the road. I couldn’t think of them as anything but that. If I had, I would have given up. And nothing, not even a doctor’s advice, could get me to do that. Although I love my doctors, I had to think for myself when it came to my own health and happiness.

4. Understandably, you experienced severe depression following your accident. What was the turning point for you?  And how do you find strength and energy to turn such despair into positivity?

Somewhere in between surgeries number 28 and 34, I mentally spiraled into a deep, dark depression. I could feel myself giving up and giving in to the pain, and in that moment, I thought about my beautiful children, my family, my friends, and my clients, and realized I had better make a decision. I could go down the road of despair or down the road of peace and happiness. I immediately threw myself into a place of gratitude for all I did have in my life. Every time a negative thought crept into my mind, I replaced it with something I was grateful for. I threw myself into physical therapy and stayed active with my fitness clientele. Even though I couldn’t physically train them at first, I could still create their exercise plans and coach them over the phone. Being of service really took me out of my despair and gave me a sense of purpose and a strong feeling of connection.

5. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is also often referred to as “the suicide disease” due to the fact so many sufferers take their own lives. How did you overcome the odds and move forward in order to achieve your goals and live life to the fullest?

My heart sank the first time I learned I had what is known as the suicide disease. When I found out I had an incurable disease that would leave me in constant chronic pain, I defaulted to denial; it took me years to accept that I am a woman with a disability. It wasn’t until I completely accepted my disability that I could begin to heal—not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. I focus on what I can do and don’t get caught up in past accomplishments. I celebrate small victories along the way, whether being able to walk up the stairs on my own or walk on the beach with my family. I only look back to see how far I have come. I connect to my higher power every day and pray. Instead of letting my chronic pain detour me from my endeavors, I use it as a tool to connect me with others going through challenges and am reminded that I am not alone on this journey.

6. Throughout the book, you discuss the need for hope, acceptance and gratitude — to be thankful for all you have rather than looking to the past and what you have lost. Do you feel this is the key to getting the most out of life?

At first I was so caught up in my past accomplishments that I couldn’t live fully in the present moment. I went from being a dancer, athlete, and fitness trainer to fighting just to stand upright for a few seconds at a time. I was so embarrassed of my scars and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong with me. Allowing others to see my scars crushed me. Slowly, however, my perspective changed and I took ownership of my story. I then viewed my scars as battles I had won. Instead of looking down at my leg in anguish, I looked at it as a blessing. I still had my legs. Once I embraced my imperfections and learned self-acceptance, I truly began to heal and be comfortable in my own skin.

Without the traumas and heartbreaks of life I wouldn’t be able to serve the way I do now. It’s not about circumstances but about what you decide to do with them. I focus on what I am grateful for and don’t leave any room for self-pity. I make my purpose bigger than my problems.

As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”. I believe in miracles.

7. Your role as a wellness coach and motivational speaker involves supporting, inspiring and advising others. Why is this so important and how does helping other people through their difficulties benefit you personally?

I wanted more than ever to get back to my passion, which is working with people, but I did wonder who would want to train with me. I felt broken. I trained fitness competitors, boxers, and CHP officers for years—and then I found myself on crutches. I now needed my clients more than they needed me. I needed to get back to work. I needed to give my life purpose above and beyond trying to walk again. Purpose was what would save me mentally, psychologically, spiritually—and, for that matter, physically. Purpose was what would get me on my feet and, someday—as I prayed—running again. I did whatever I could to get myself stronger—and then came the miracle. Business began booming, and did so quickly because people saw me in the gym, in my wheelchair or on crutches, even pushing myself from station to station in a wheelchair. I became the trainer of encouragement who told people, Yes you can! and that was how I trained them. Speaking to groups of people, whether a gathering of youth or  business professionals, about overcoming obstacles is a way of connecting, and when people connect, magic happens. I believe we need to lift others up to be better ourselves.

8. What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

What I have learned in life is a series of choices we make regardless of our circumstances. I could either make the choice to give up and let my life be determined by my circumstances, or fight to create something positive out of my situation. My choice is to notice the gifts life offers, which are particularly plentiful when you look for them. I believe in seeing the good in every situation and learning something from it.

I believe we can have the life we have always imagined, even if our circumstances have narrowed our possibilities. My sincere wish is that my story will help each reader claim their own power and belief in themselves and their dreams, and find their own resilience to move forward and choose a life filled with laughter and love, even when things don’t go as planned. We can’t choose what life throws our way, but we can choose to be happy and live a full life, despite our circumstances. Through our trials, we can embrace our challenges, connect to our innermost resilience, and change our perspective on life. We are all strong, but together we are unstoppable!


I’d like to thank Amberly Lago for taking the time to answer my questions so considerately.

Please visit her website to learn more about her life and work as a motivational speaker.

TRUE GRIT AND GRACE: Turning Tragedy Into Triumph by Amberly Lago (Morgan James Publishing; April 17, 2018) – Available to buy now from Amazon.

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

International Women’s Day 2018

Just a quick post today, to (belatedly) celebrate International Women’s Day 2018.

It is held on 8th March, every year. Here are a few quotes that resonate with me…

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?


This post comes to you a little late, since I spent Thursday 8th March in hospital having an operation – fun, fun!

I’m now on the mend and planning future blog posts.

What topics would you like me to cover?

If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would be grateful if you would leave a comment.


Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Scoliosis | Why I Chose NOT To Have A Spinal Fusion

In my latest piece for Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers, I explain how and why I chose NOT to have a spinal fusion, as a child.


My Experience

I was offered corrective scoliosis surgery at the age of nine.

Back then, I had a general diagnosis of congenital muscular dystrophy,and was able to walk short distances wearing leg splints. Many years later, my condition was specified as Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

At the time, I had no idea why I was going to see a Consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon. I was nine! To me it was just yet another appointment.

There was no faffing around; this doctor was straight to the point! I was told I needed imminent corrective surgery to prevent further decline. I was horrified to hear the graphic details, the lengthy recovery period, and how it could even prove fatal.

Of course, I now appreciate that with any surgical procedure, doctors are obliged to inform the patient of every potential risk and outcome, including death. But this was unexpected news to take in at a young age.

How I Made My Decision

As a child, I annually attended Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, where I saw a paediatric neuromuscular Consultant.

My parents and I were never given a prognosis nor any indication regarding if or how my condition might progress. Life expectancy was never discussed and no doctor could tell if I would, in time, come to rely on a wheelchair. We were very much in the dark, living day-to-day.

Frankly, these appointments frustrated and bored me to tears! We would wait hours to see the doctor, and would leave knowing nothing more than we did before.

I have, in all honesty, learnt infinitely more as an adult through my own research, social media and from others with muscular dystrophy.

My point here is that my parents and I had nothing to base our decision on.

It is now twenty years since I was told I needed a spinal fusion. This was pre-Google and pre-social media. We weren’t put in contact with anyone who had experienced the operation. So, other than a verbal overview from the Consultant, we had no other information or point of reference.

After leaving the appointment in a state of shock, my parents told me that ultimately the choice was mine. I decided I didn’t want to put myself through such an ordeal. I was, at that age, considerably more able than I am now, and none of us had any reason to think I would deteriorate as severely as I have.

Do I Regret My Decision?

At the time, it was, or at least seemed the right decision. I was able to weight-bear, finding clothes wasn’t an issue, I was pain-free, and did not require any inhalers, medication or respiratory support.

The procedure back then was very different compared to today, and I was very young. My condition was stable, I was happy and relatively able. Under those circumstances, the disadvantages outweighed the potential advantages.

However, I do often wonder how different my life, body and health might be had I said yes to a spinal fusion.

No one predicted that just a year after the offer was made, aged 10, I would become completely non-ambulant within a very short space of time. Had I any indication that this might occur, my decision may have been different.

Though my scoliosis was considerable, the ‘S’ shaped curve is now much greater. Consequently, my respiratory function is significantly affected and basic comfort is a distant memory.

On bad days, when I’m in pain and struggling for breath, or when I’m ill for months (yes, months) with respiratory infections; I do regret forgoing my one opportunity to correct my skeletal deformity.

But, what’s done is done, and cannot be undone. I’m stuck with me! I can’t change past decisions. I simply have to make the best of what I have and keep moving forward.


I’d love to hear about your experiences with scoliosis and spinal surgery.

– Have you turned down corrective surgery?

– Have you had a spinal fusion? If so, how has your life changed as a result? Is it better or worse?

Interview | Author Janine Shepherd

Here is my latest interview, with Janine Shepherd, for Disability Horizons.


Janine Shepherd: A Broken Body is not a Broken Person

Former elite athlete and celebrated author, Janine Shepherd shares her inspirational story in the best-selling memoir, Defiant: A Broken Body is not a Broken Person.

It chronicles her journey following a tragic accident that cut short her bid to compete in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Partially paralysed and suffering life-changing injuries, Janine made the courageous decision to let go of her former life and face adversity head-on, creating a new dream for herself.

Here I speak to Janine about her journey, the challenges she has faced and how she’s reinvented herself and her outlook.

Hit by a truck in 1986 during a bicycle ride in Australia’s Blue Mountains, Janine was not expected to survive. Told by doctors that she would never walk again, nor have children, she spent the next few years rehabilitating her permanent disabilities and defying all the odds.

A mother of three, best-selling author, public speaker, aerobatics pilot and the first female director of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Janine speaks candidly and with humility about how and why she reinvented herself and changed her self-perspective.


Janine, please tell us about your disability and how it continues to affect you.

The accident gave me severe spinal cord injury – I broke my neck and back in six places. After extensive surgery and rehabilitation, there was just about enough nerve connectivity to be able to learn to walk again, albeit with a significant limp.

Now, in addition to significantly wasted lower leg muscles, I have limited feeling from the waist down and chronic bladder and bowel dysfunction. I also have to self-catheter a lot, which results in regular urinary tract infections. Your readers might agree that these issues are possibly the worst part of living with spinal cord injury.

‘Janine the machine’ is how you referred to your old self – the elite cross-country ski racer. Do you feel this remains a true representation of your character? If not, how would you now define yourself?

Even though I felt that my body was ‘broken’ after my accident, I realised that my spiritual essence and mental toughness remained unchanged. I soon learned that being ‘Janine the machine’ had less to do with athletic prowess than unshakeable determination and persistence. Recognising that gave me the strength to reinvent my life in a most remarkable way.

Following the accident and being unable to walk, you focused on learning to fly. In your book, you state: “I had to find something to replace what I had lost in my accident”. Why was it so important to set yourself such an ambitious goal?

We often define ourselves by things outside of us – our jobs, our relationships, the roles we play in life. When we lose those things, who we are and everything we believed in is challenged. When we experience such immense loss in life, whatever form it may take, it is very easy to slip into despair, which is what happened when I got home from the hospital. Flying filled me with so much joy and gave me the inspiration and hope that I really could rebuild my life in an unlikely and extraordinary way.

The feeling of despair was almost inevitable. You state that you suffered depression on returning home after a six-month stay in hospital. How did overcome this?

I overcame the despair by throwing myself into flying as well as my physical therapy. At first, this was more discipline than it was a spiritual or emotional triumph. I simply interrupted the pattern of depression by charting progress on all fronts, no matter how incremental it may have been from one day to the next. This helped to refocus my life and channel my depression elsewhere. Hope and application proved to be powerful antidotes to depression.

You discuss your choice to keep fighting versus letting go and accepting not only your body but also the circumstances. This led you to stop asking “why me?” but rather, “why not me?” Why was it so essential to change your perspective?

Before my accident, I had led a very narrow life in that all of my friends were athletes of some sort. In hospital, I met so many other people, whom I would normally not have met. This opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone on this journey.

Even though we came from very different walks of life, we experienced similar struggles with acceptance and recalibrating how to live life post-recovery. Equally important, we had in common the typical hopes and dreams of anyone for a ‘normal’ life once we left the spinal ward.

You have faced great adversity on a number of occasions. Having rebuilt your life following your accident, you then later experienced the upheaval of divorce and financial ruin. What gave you the strength to once again thrive and persevere despite these challenges?

I developed a philosophy very early on in my days as an athlete called ‘loving the hills.’ One of my racing advantages was that I took on the climbs my competitors dreaded with a passion. That not only made me physically stronger but mentally tougher as well.

This proved to be more than just a training philosophy; it became my choice as a way seeing and living life. Ski races and life experiences are both full of hills; loving them not only gave me a competitive edge but also developed my resilience. So when faced with a life challenge that, metaphorically, looks insurmountable, I take that on as just another ‘hill’. Loving it, not fighting it, teaches me the lessons I need in order to grow into a wiser and more compassionate person.

One of the themes of your book is the concept of disability. You emphasise the importance of believing in the power of potential and adopting a defiant mindset, so that one may not be defined by their physical limitations. Can you share your outlook on disability?

I went from being a gifted, multi-sport athlete to having to relearn how to walk. So, it took me years to finally and fully accept that I am a woman with a disability. At first I felt embarrassed by many aspects of my spinal cord injury, bladder and bowel dysfunction.

However, as I look back and see how much I have achieved, despite my challenges, and how much I have overcome, I feel like the aspect of loss in my life is no longer something to try to hide. Instead, I’m proud of being able to acknowledge my disability and put my energy into making the best use of my gifts.

Despite your many life-altering setbacks, you write with great humour, humility and encouragement. How have you managed to maintain such a positive and empathetic attitude? And do you feel that humour is important in maintaining a healthy outlook?

I absolutely feel that being able to laugh at life is an essential part of the healing process. I tell others not to take life too seriously or you’ll cloud the experience. There are so many documented mental and physical health benefits of laughter. Humour helps me to deal with chronic pain, something that remains a part of my life on a day-to-day basis.

You state that the loss of your athletic career and your physical limitations ultimately allowed you the freedom to embrace life’s potential and infinite possibilities. This is a remarkably refreshing and open-minded viewpoint. How have you ensured that you are defined by your accomplishments rather than your broken body?

I believe that life is about loosening our grip on the things that we feel entitled to. Many of the ancient teachings state that this only leads to suffering. When we let go of the life that we feel we should have, we gain the freedom to see the world through new eyes, and create a more ideal life we can only then envision. This is the gift that comes from realising that life is not about having it all, but loving it all, even the painful parts.

Finally, what do you hope readers will take away from your memoir?

I believe that each of us serves both as companion and as mirror to those we meet along the way. When we accept that we are not alone on our journey, and just how precious and short it is, we become open to seeing the world from a perspective of love and hope.

We then understand that, despite the inevitable life challenges, we always have the choice to reinvent our lives and embrace the new with a sense of wonder and joy. My sincere wish is that my story helps each reader better connect with his or her defiant human spirit. And, that doing so serves to foster the pursuit of the uniquely rich, extraordinary life that awaits every one of us.


I would like to thank the wonderful Janine Shepherd for speaking with me.

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