My life changed for good in January when Sylvie was born. I became paralysed ten years ago and have never felt happier or more fulfilled than I do today As my belly swelled, I became increasingly excited and nervous about motherhood. I’d always wanted to be a mum, but well aware that I don’t function well on limited sleep, I wondered how I’d cope waking every couple of hours to feed a newborn.
I know hard work. As a Paralympic athlete I pushed myself to the limits, working alongside a tough daily training regime and often felt both physically and mentally wiped out. Competing on the biggest stage, in the fastest and one of the most dangerous Paralympic Sports brings immense pressure. I have discovered that parenting is equally intense and relentless! Sylvie doesn’t care if I haven’t slept for more than two hours in a row for the past four months, she perseveres noisily with her demands until I work out what she wants and appease her! It is exhausting, exasperating and more stressful than risking my neck skiing down the most treacherous ski run.
But we adapt.
I am unable to stand due to a spinal cord injury. At only 5’2”, heavily pregnant with a 10lb 8oz baby was very uncomfortable. Two weeks overdue and with no sign of labour, dreams of a natural birth were dashed when doctors aired concerns about the size of the baby and recommended a Cesarean Section. Aside fears for the baby’s health, I dreaded a C Section most that recovery would be especially long and hard as I’m so reliant on the functioning parts of my abdomen.
Although a far cry from the hypno water birth that I had hoped for, the birth was surprisingly euphoric. I was fearful before they cut me, but the ecstasy of birth, the pure joy on hearing her first cry, were incredible! My husband, Pete said ‘It’s a girl!’ then our warm, wet baby was on my chest, nuzzling my face. The intensity of love I felt immediately for her is indescribable.
We named her Sylvie Louisa; Louisa after my great friend who died just before I raced in the Vancouver Paralympics.
It is hard at times. The first week in hospital I could barely move, let alone pick Sylvie up. Pete was able to stay, is loving being a dad and doing brilliantly and has been hugely supportive throughout, as have both of our families and many friends, old and new. Meditation and yoga classes helped me relax and grow in confidence throughout my pregnancy and early motherhood. Regular physiotherapy has also helped but it still took approximately 6 months to recover from the operation.
I remember gazing at my tiny, perfect baby and willing her not to grow up too fast, every day is precious. Although there are days when I find myself wondering why Pete’s not home yet, before realizing its 11am and I haven’t even had lunch! Yet every new development fills me with pleasure. Although I worried about leaving my vulnerable baby; about how I’d cope as she got heavier; how I’d get her in the car; keep her safe when she is toddling, I have discovered that as a parent you find a way.
Belinda, my yoga instructor says, you don’t have to be perfect, just do your best. Being a Mum may pose different challenges to me than my able-bodied friends but I’m just another mum. We all worry, but we struggle on. I have a newfound respect for parents! Becoming a mother is undoubtedly the most wonderful experience of my life.
Pushing about in a wheelchair with a baby certainly gets people talking to you, as do twins. My brother, Ben, and his fiancée Heather, have twin babies and two boys under five, so I can’t complain about looking after one little bundle of joy! That said, whenever I see a wheelchair user parent, I feel a sense of solidarity.
I’m incredibly fortunate and am excited about watching Sylvie grow up, there is so much more to come. Sylvie certainly isn’t letting anything stop her – if I adapt to motherhood half as well as she is to life with a parent in a wheelchair, together we shall go far!
A longer edition of this article can be found in The Spokesman, 2016 http://www.gerald-simonds.co.uk/spokesman.php
I met Matt Hampson or Hambo, during my 3 months of rehab in Stoke Mandeville. He broke his neck during an England Under 21 rugby training session but rather than let being paralysed from the neck down, and breathing via the aid of a ventilator stop him, it seems to have spurred him on!
Hambo set up the Matt Hampson Foundation, and with the motto ‘Get busy living!’ they provide advice, support, relief and/or treatment for anyone suffering serious injury or disability which has arisen from any cause, but in particular from participation in or training for any sport, sporting activity or other form of physical education or recreation.
In 2006 my life was turned upside down. I was 26 and aspiring to become a professional snowboarder, but whilst competing in a boardercross competition in Japan, I crash landed a 30 foot tabletop jump. The next day, the doctor told me I’d broken my back had a 98% chance that I would never walk again.
Not walking wasn’t a major concern but I was devastated by the thought that I’d never snowboard again or achieve my sporting dreams. I lay in hospital watching one of my competitors compete in the Turin Olympic Games; that was one of the hardest experiences of my life.
However I spoke to a Canadian Paralympic Alpine Skier and immediately decided to try the sport. A year later I discovered just how challenging monoskiing is but I knew I’d discovered a new passion. I went from feeling as if my life was over to setting new goals to work towards, becoming a Paralympic skier.
After three years of intensive training with the British Disabled Ski Team, I was delighted to finish 6th in Slalom in the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics. I set my sights on Sochi 2014 but there was very little financial support so training was my biggest challenge. Skiing is notoriously expensive as it requires highly specialised kit and you have to train predominantly abroad.
My cousin suggested approaching the Matt Hampson Foundation. It was great to see Matt again, after all he has achieved, and the charity agreed to fund two British Team training camps to Austria and then I won 6 World Cup medals in the build up to Sochi to add to my 57 career medals.
I was elated to qualify for all 5 Alpine events and get selected for the British Paralympic Team for Sochi 2014. Without the support of the Matt Hampson Foundation, I would have been less well prepared and may not have qualified for the Games. I competed hard in Sochi, pointing the ski down in horrendous conditions on the toughest downhill course in the history of the Winter Games.
It was going well and I was in bronze medal position when I crashed at 68mph. Miraculously I didn’t hurt myself. I competed in the other events, and finished 4th, 6th and 8th.
I was disappointed. I have had bleak days. But feel incredibly fortunate.
I have spent 7 years representing GB at the very top level in the fastest and one of the most dangerous Paralympic Sports. I’m extremely passionate about skiing and my supporters have made it possible for me to achieve things I never thought possible.
Thank you Hambo, your team and fundraisers for making dreams come true!
On Saturday 12th October, Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre ran a Summer Race League Race and Raffle and raised over £1000 for the British Disabled Ski Team.
Having heard me speak at the 2013 Snowsport England Conference in June, Jean White, the Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre Manager contacted me proposing the fundraising for the unfunded members of the team.
Despite rain in the morning, the races went really well and everyone seemed to have fun. It was great to see the racers going for it on the slope and supporting each other. Cakes were baked and sold and loads of great raffle prizes were donated. Thank you so much to everyone involved, it was a great day.
Racers from the Midlands Ski Club
- Artistic and sporty – thanks for the picture girls!
I have decided to retire from ski racing to focus on my career in motivational speaking, mentoring, youth work and media.
I made make my media debut reporting on the struggles many athletes face in retirement, on BBC Midlands Today on Wednesday 21st January 2015, 9 years to the day after becoming paralysed.
I feel honored to have overcome considerable challenges to represent GB at a world class level despite. I could not have achieved any of it without my sponsors, fundraisers, friends and family. Thank you to everyone who has made it possible, I competed as an individual but my success has very much been a team effort.
I aim to continue to inspire and support others to achieve their potential.
Intense training in New Zealand proved useful for GB as we competed in the World Cups in Thredbo, Australia. Mick Brennan and I both won bronze in the Giant Slalom and I was pleased to take another bronze in Slalom, although couldn’t beat the Americans, this time.
Conditions were trickily soft due to the hot weather and unfortunately the second slalom had to be cancelled. The Australians did well to run any races at all.
Thank you to my sponsors and supporters, particularly to MacuShield UK, Bridgestone, McDonald’s, Strakka Racing and Hackleton Primary School who made this trip possible thanks to sterling fundraising efforts! I couldn’t do it without you.
Both Mick and I are thrilled with our first World Cup medals. The team is now training in Wanaka, New Zealand until the end of September, in preparation for an important season ahead.
Last week, representing the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, I was brought in to inspire a group of young people involved in Stafford National Citizens Service but came away feeling hugely inspired myself!
The group of local 16 and 17 year old school leavers from various different backgrounds, had clearly bonded well on residential at the PGL Centre in Shropshire, and I felt privileged to join in their ‘Home Residential’. During this section of the project, the young people were living away from home together (many for the first time), having to organise group meals, budget, shop and clean in preparation for busy days on the project.
Prior to my visit, a workshop on goal setting had been run by reigning Commonwealth Champion, Louise Hazel, and I’m glad I wasn’t aware I’d be following such a superstar! I ran an interactive workshop focusing on the importance of planning, using my Paralympic experience. We went outside and everyone got involved in a fun multi-activity session using a variety of challenging tasks for the teams to plan and coordinate.
I was hugely impressed with the attitude of the group as a whole. Although the tasks were challenging, everyone got involved and the teamwork was remarkable.
The group is now preparing for their Social Action Projects, where they plan and develop their own initiatives, aiming to make positive impacts in things in the community that matter to them. It is always a pleasure to be involved in the NCS and I can see that these young people have far to go – thank you for involving me.
I met the children and staff of Hackleton Primary School, Northamptonshire last summer when I launched the ‘Be the Best you can Be’ Project for 21st Century Legacy, but I had no idea that they really are the best!
The school decided to secretly raise funds to help cover my training costs but was broken into in March and £350 was stolen. However, the children had taken the be the best you can be message to heart and were determined not to be beaten. They went all out to raise more money and presented me with a check for over £5000 last week!
I was overwhelmed and had to fight back the tears – I have wonderful support since breaking my back 7 years ago but this is something else! I cannot believe their monumental fundraising achievement!
Funds raised will help cover my paralympic ski training costs. I am travelling to New Zealand to train with the British Disabled Ski Team in August and the funds will pay for my flights, accommodation, coaching and race fees.
Backing like this does more than just help pay the costs, it really spurs me on to be the best I can be!
I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to Warwick Rotary Club who have sponsored my monoski costing £4700! Your support has enabled me to have world class equipment and will help me to represent Great Britain to the best of my ability on the international circuit and hopefully to qualify and get picked for the GB Paralympic team for the 2014 Sochi Paralympics in Russia.
This seasons’ races start next Friday and Saturday in Snowworld in Landgraaf, Holland, a large indoor snowdome. After that, I will travel with the British Disabled Ski Team to Obergurgl then Pitztal, Austria and Lenk, Switzerland to compete on the Europa Cup circuit in my excellent new kit.
The pressure is on as Paralympic selection will depend on results this December, but training has been going well, I am looking forward to racing, fit and ready to race!
I would also like to thank Stratford upon Avon Rotary Club for their generous donation towards my training. I have now enjoyed speaking to the aforementioned clubs as well as Rotarua Rotary Club, New Zealand and last week I was stopped by a German Rotarian on the pistes! Thank you Rotarians for your interest and support.
Please see the following article from the Warwick Courier: http://www.warwickcourier.co.uk/news/local/anna-inspires-rotary-club-1-4314544
The British Disabled Ski Team was also in Sky Sports News on Monday, here is the link: