Showing Gratitude

In my previous post, I suggested writing a list of all the positive things in your life.

We’re currently experiencing tough times, but there’s still much to be thankful for.

With that in mind, here’s my list of gratitude…

1. Video calls with my brother and nineteen month-old nephew. “My no go nursery, Cazzy!” He’s quite happy going on “doggy walks” with Daddy.

2. People are realising the value of the NHS and care workers.

3. Receiving messages, calls, letters and cards from friends.

4. Blue skies, sunshine and warm weather to lift spirits.

5. Nature and Spring time. Venturing outside and exploring nature is great for improving our mood and mental health.

6. Community spirit – everyone is playing their part by volunteering, working and offering practical and emotional support.

7. My wimpy Labrador is much happier now that we’re not receiving visitors. No people – Yay!!

8. This lockdown period provides time to rest, sleep, think, plan and do the things I have been putting off, like decluttering my bedroom.

9. Environmental pollution is reducing, air quality is improving in cities, and the planet is slowly starting to recover.

10. I am fortunate to have a safe, comfortable home and a caring, loving family.

11. Finally, quarantine means there’s no pressure or expectation to shave or wax my hairy lady bits! Girls, you know what I’m talking about!

What’s on your list…?

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…

New Year, More Me!

We’re now in the midst of January, and many are following a “new year, new me” health and fitness regime.

Most of us over-indulge at Christmas. Too much rich food and too much booze.

Everywhere you look, it seems people are trying to lose weight and tone-up. Fair play to them! Do what makes you feel good.

But just to break the trend, here I am trying to put on weight!

Okay, so…I’m teeny tiny. Pixie sized! My weight has always been fairly consistent and never really fluctuated.

Of course, my condition influences this. Muscle weighs vastly more than fat, right? Well, I have very little muscle mass. And so my BMI is always going to be much lower than the average.

I won’t lie, I’ve always consciously monitored my weight and my calorie intake. Not due to vanity, but practicality.

I am non-ambulant and therefore cannot transfer independently. I get thrown around a lot! From chair to chair, chair to bed etc. If I were significantly heavier, life would be much more difficult!

People who struggle to lose weight often ask me how I stay so tiny, considering I’m unable to exercise. Well…

~ Growing up with older brothers helps! I’ve always scraped food off my plate onto theirs. And they were always happy to finish off any food I left.

~ Study food labels and count calories.

~ Self limitation. I’ve almost trained myself to say no when someone offers me chocolate or a biscuit. Bad, I know.

~ It might sound silly but, over time your stomach does shrink and your body adapts. You learn to function on fewer calories.

*Now, to make it absolutely clear, I am in no way dictating, advising or advocating such bad habits! I am very much aware that this is unhealthy behaviour.*

So, why do I now want to put on weight?

When I’m ill, I eat less. When I’m really stressed, I stop eating. In these instances, I am NOT consciously monitoring my weight.

Over the past 2 months, I have unintentionally lost weight. This will no doubt affect my overall health and wellbeing, reducing energy levels and leaving me vulnerable to infection and illness.

Believe it or not, increasing calorie intake is far more challenging (for me) than you might imagine. It’s difficult to break the habit of a lifetime!

Before, I would go literally all day without eating a thing. No breakfast, no lunch. I would then pick at my dinner and that would be it.

I am now constantly reminding and forcing myself to consume food and drink, little and often, throughout the day.

If I can put on half a stone, I’ll be happy. I’ll still be skinny, but I’ll be healthier. That can only be a good thing!

Guest Post | Wealden Rehab ~ Occupational Therapy

Wealden Rehab Equipment Specialists share the benefits
of having an Occupational Therapist in the team

Care equipment specialist Wealden Rehab works alongside in-house and external qualified occupational therapists (OTs).

Our in-house OT, Gayle Cardwell has 20 years experience, benefiting the team with clinical skills that can
be transferred into private practice. The collaboration between care equipment
providers and clinical experts results in a truly personal service.

Gayle offers her knowledge and understanding of both mental and physical health and wellbeing to the product advisors at Wealden Rehab, emphasising the importance of a personal approach being necessary to achieve the best
outcomes.

Assessing each client holistically encompasses the environmental considerations, which improve solutions for installation of ceiling hoists and
more detailed clinical considerations for seating.

Installation of multiple celing hoist units at Foreland Fields School

Upon prescribing a piece of equipment, the occupational therapist must clearly show their clinical consideration. Gayle has devised and shared documents to encourage clinical reasoning when prescribing Wealden Rehab’s most popular
products. The documents are aimed at prescribing OT’s to consider the individual, environment, the task and to help justify the most appropriate outcome for the end user.

Gayle has provided a rigorous training program for all of Wealden Rehab’s product advisors, through individual and group training sessions. Her ongoing program is designed to enhance the assessments and the training they offer to their customers, which brings extra value.

Wealden Rehab recognise the
significance of having an OT in the team and a clinical approach in devising and delivering training for OT customers when prescribing Wealden Rehab products. We have observed increased confidence, greater understanding from OT’s in the
set-up and recommendation of our products, resulting in improving the end users
experience.

In the future, Wealden Rehab will be adding to the range
of products and, with specialist input, Gayle will be able to critique and share her clinical knowledge regarding new products. This will surely have an impact on the quality of life of many users, which is, Gayle says, ‘At the heart of
everything we do.’

Ceiling hoist installation by Wealden Rehab at the Chiltern School

Many thanks to Wealden Rehab for providing this guest post.

Physical Health & Mental Health

Physical disabilities/impairments and mental health issues are not mutually exclusive!

Many people, like me, living with disabilities and chronic illnesses are affected by stress, anxiety or depression at some point in their lives.

This is not to say that the disability/impairment, whether temporary or permanent, is the primary cause of the mental health issue. It could be a contributing factor, or they may be completely unrelated. You might just be super lucky and have been blessed with both – Double whammy!

Equally, those struggling with their mental health will often (if not always) experience physical side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, nausea and chest pains.

Essentially, what I’m saying is, the mind affects the body and so the body affects the mind.


My Disability & Point of View

I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy – a physical disability – that has progressed over time. I am now a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, having lost the ability to walk at age 10.

My condition has a considerable effect on my body and physical capabilities. With the best will in the world, there are many things I cannot do.

For example, my older brother is very fit and able-bodied. He has travelled the world and often goes trekking through the countryside and climbing mountains.

Last year, he and some mates completed the Three Peaks Challenge in aid of Muscular Dystrophy UK. Gruelling and possibly a little bit crazy, considering the 3 lads did all the driving themselves – but wow!

I often wish I could be out there with him. It might not be everyone’s cuppa, but it would be nice, just once, to experience that sort of thrill and adrenaline rush. A real physical accomplishment whilst being in the midst of nature.

But, I can’t. And I never will. Of course, this gets me down and impacts on my mood. Yes, I wish I could walk, run, dance, be completely independent and spontaneous. But I can’t. I am limited and reliant on support from others to live my life. This is something I have no choice but to accept.

There is no treatment, no cure, and no pill I can pop to help the situation. For lack of a better phrase, it is very much a case of, deal with it!

I cannot control my disability or how it affects my body. Therefore, it is important to focus on the things I CAN do and control.

I can’t dance, so I like to watch the dancing (yes, I’m a sad, old Strictly fan. Don’t care!)

I can’t drive, so I have a passenger WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), which allows me to get out and about.

My Motability passenger WAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle)

I can’t walk or run, so I roll (with style)!

Admittedly, I’m pretty crap at sorting my own problems out. So I tend to focus on other people’s 😂 Not necessarily a good thing, but there ya go!


Living with a physical disability is a way of life. It is inflicted on us – we have not chosen this path. Similarly, living with a mental health illness is a way of life. So what you gonna do? ADAPT or Die!

Guest Post | Employing Older Workers

Are Employers Doing Enough to Help with the Wellbeing of Older Workers?

The business world is going through a radical change to workforces right now. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), one in four workers in the UK is now aged over 50.

Research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found that from 2011 to 2014, the proportion of workers aged 50 and older rose from 21% to 24%. The same ONS survey estimated that, by 2030, the number of people in the UK aged 65 and older will have increased by 50%, while those aged 20 to 30 would see a 4% decline.

This figure may vary depending on a variety of circumstances including the location, industry, policies and more. One thing’s for sure though; these changes will have far-reaching consequences across society, including the workplace.

With this in mind, it’s even more important to acknowledge and invest in supporting the changing workforce. Organisations are now in competition for the best and most experienced staff.

In this article, we explore what this means for businesses. We identify areas where employers can further support their older workers and offer some tips for ensuring their wellbeing.

Older Workers and Wellbeing

Anyone that’s been in employment in the last five to ten years would no doubt have noticed the increased focus on employee wellbeing. It’s the trending buzzword relating to the health and safety of not only the physical but also the mental health of workers.

To keep your workforce happy (and by extension increase productivity), you should consider investing in both physical and mental support.

To achieve this for your older workers, you need to first consider what they need and want in the workplace. Research conducted by CIPD at the Centre for Ageing Better showed that just like younger workers, they’d also like a job that is meaningful, stimulating and sociable.

At the moment, older workers feel less appreciated compared to their younger counterparts. They’d like a job that’s not only flexible but also offers opportunities such as mentoring, training and career progression.

Benefits of Age Diversity

A study by Ageing Better shows employers report greater levels of loyalty, reliability and commitment from their older workers compared with younger colleagues. Their experience in life and in their sector places them in an ideal position to manage themselves and other members of staff.

According to a survey by CIPD, the number one benefit of age diversity in the workplace is knowledge-sharing. They found that 56% of HR decision-makers believe that older workers transfer vital knowledge and skills.

Having a diverse workforce, not only in age but also race, religion and (dis)ability can also help to solve complex work problems. By bringing a mix of ideas, skills, strengths, experiences and backgrounds, you’re ensuring that strengths and weaknesses are balanced.

Finally, because of the estimated increase of over 50 year-olds in the general population in the UK, age diversity in the workplace can help to match the profile of your customers which will, in turn, improve the product or services you offer.

4 Tips for Supporting Older Workers

Be open to flexibility: This is important to workers of all ages. It helps them to create a balance between their work and social life. Specifically, for older workers, it also provides a transition period to retirement. Remember to inform your staff of their right to make flexible working requests.

Mentoring: By allowing your older workers to mentor younger employers, they’re able to pass on their experience, work habits and attitudes towards work.

Training: Some employers are concerned about this investment because they worry that they’re investing in someone who may soon retire. However, it’s worth noting, training these workers means as well as keeping their skills sharp, they’ll be more employable.

Employee Assistance Programmes: As well as retirement benefits, you should also be supporting them while they’re still at your company. Offering employee assistance programmes gives workers access to support that’ll help them deal with personal problems that might impact their work performance or their health and wellbeing.

On top of all this, you should also be conducting regular one-to-one meetings to review their performance, offer feedback and keep on top of any issues.


My thanks to David Price from Health Assured for providing this guest post.

The Winter Edit: Part 2

5 Tips to Stay Well through Winter

The dark nights are drawing in and the weather is turning increasingly colder. The harshness of winter fills many disabled people, myself included, with dread.

How can we best prepare ourselves for winter?

We are 80% more likely to catch a cold during winter.

Bearing that in mind, here are my top tips to stay well and defend yourself against those nasty winter viruses.

Click here for Part 1 ~ Top Tips to Keep Warm through Winter!


1. Stock up on supplies:
Medication –


• It’s always advisable to keep a stock of essential supplies in your home. Several factors, including adverse weather, can prevent you from getting hold of medicines at short notice.
• All my medications are on repeat prescription so that I don’t have the bother of getting hold of a GP every time I need something.
• As someone with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a common cold for me can develop scarily quickly, and so I ensure there’s always a reserve of antibiotics at home, should I need them.
• It’s important to go and get your Flu jab annually and, where relevant, the pneumonia vaccination. Don’t leave it too late to protect yourself from influenza – it takes two weeks from the time you’re injected for your body to build up an immunity.

Contacts –

• It’s good practice to have a list of contacts, in case of an emergency. Include medical professionals (e.g. doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and hospital ward/department direct lines) so that you or your next of kin can contact, should you become ill. Keep your list somewhere easy to find, such as on the fridge, and make copies!

2. Nutrition:

• I choose to take supplements including a daily multivitamin and probiotics, in order to boost my immunity. Supplements come in various forms: tablet, capsule, liquid and powder. If you struggle to swallow pills, there’s always another option out there for you.
• I’m not a fan of water, so I drink a lot of herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, to keep me hydrated and flush out toxins. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial while ginger also helps ease migraines, inflammation and nausea (the latter being a common side effect of antibiotics). Add some honey for sweetness and to soothe a sore throat.

• I find smoothies and soups are an easy way to get your recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. It’s really important to eat healthily to aid your bodies defence against all those coughs and colds circulating throughout the winter months. Remember: you are what you eat!

Top Foods: lemon, ginger, garlic, onion, kale, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, apple cider vinegar, grapes, natural yoghurt and chicken soup.

3. Cleanliness:

• I keep a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel in my bag (you can buy them really cheaply from most shops nowadays). I use it when out and about or using public transport. It’s a simple way to prevent the spread of germs from surfaces and person to person.
• It’s stating the obvious but wash hands with soapy water and maintain clean surfaces within the home. It’s often difficult to prevent all members of a household becoming ill when one gets sick. But simple precautions such as this could make all the difference.
• Grab yourself a few packets of antibacterial wipes and remember to clean phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and door handles regularly. You’d be amazed how much bacteria harbours there.
• Be considerate and try to cough and sneeze into a tissue rather than the air. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of tissues in stock. Please don’t do what my Dad does and carry a snotty cotton handkerchief around with you all day – bleurgh!
• Replace your toothbrush after you have fully recovered from an illness.

4. Physiotherapy:

• It’s beneficial to stay as active as physically possible, particularly throughout winter as immobility makes us more vulnerable to infection.
I am completely non-ambulant and so this is a major issue for me. Immobility results in muscle decline and poor circulation, which in itself leads to further complications.
• Although I cannot exercise in a conventional fashion, I basically wriggle and move about as much as I can. For example, I flex my feet & wiggle my toes, lean back and forth and side to side in my chair. Don’t be afraid to put some music on, loosen up and just MOVE however you can, for as long as you can.
• If you are able, go swimming as this is the best exercise for those with physical disabilities.
• Remember to pay attention to your lungs! Deep breathing exercises are an essential daily requirement for me. Following the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) helps to keep me as strong as I can be.

5. Avoid Germs:

• I am particularly susceptible to respiratory viruses. If I go anywhere near someone with a cold, 9/10 I will catch it. For me, a common cold can quickly progress into a much more serious condition, I do my best to limit exposure to infected people.
• I avoid overcrowded spaces and public transport when I’m feeling run-down, whilst taking and shortly after a course of antibiotics as this is when my defences are the lowest.
• At times when coughs/colds are prevalent within the local community, I try to stay away from enclosed public places e.g. trains, buses, cinema, supermarket/stores, pubs, clubs etc.
• If you must go out, remain in the fresh, open air (but wrap up warm).
Wear a scarf when out and about. When necessary, I can use it almost like a mask, pulling it up over my face. This prevents me from inhaling and contracting airborne viruses.
• Why not add a few drops of Olbas Oil (eucalyptus) to your scarf. That way, when you do need to pull it up over your nose and mouth, you can breathe in the fresh scent and it won’t feel stuffy.


I really hope this was helpful! Please SHARE this blog post so that others may benefit.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to stay well throughout winter?

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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