I am a proud Essex girl! (If you’re not from the UK, you might need to google that one – but don’t believe everything you read). I grew up in a tiny village with two big brothers and an assortment of animals. As a child, I always loved horses and when I was 12 my dad bought a horse (Rocky) for me to share with my brothers. We had just over a year together to enjoy hacking out in the extensive countryside available. We didn’t have transport to go to competitions, but Rocky still taught me a huge amount: how to canter through a river, how to ride on the road safely, how not to stop a bolting horse, how to jump cross-country fences, how to race a train, not to do yard work in flip flops, how to persuade a horse to take the bit, how to fit a martingale – and so much more!
Unfortunately, at the age of 13 I broke my back in a gymnastics accident. I fractured several vertebrae down the middle and completely crushed the discs in between. Owing to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – a painful condition which masked the pain of breaking my spine – the injuries were not picked up on until an MRI six months later showed the damage, by which time more harm had been done, causing permanent pain, weakness and spasticity in my lower back and legs.
As I’ve got older, EDS has caused my health to deteriorate further. Worsening pain and fatigue combined with repeated and dangerous falls have meant that over the last few years I’ve been dependent on a wheelchair for all but the smallest distances. EDS health is very unpredictable so I now have a bevy of wheelchairs designed for varying energy levels! They are named after types of aeroplane – because why wouldn’t you name your wheelchairs?
Education and Career
I went to Chelmsford County High School and Junior Guildhall School of Music and Drama from the ages of 11 to 18. Unfortunately my Sixth Form studies were greatly disrupted by illness and hospital admissions, meaning I had to give up my place at Junior Guildhall, but I successfully interviewed for a place at the University of Cambridge and matriculated at Peterhouse in October 2008. Plan A was to graduate in 2011 and pursue a musical career, but then my dad died very suddenly of a heart attack in February 2011. Instead, I stayed on for an extra and very happy year in Cambridge and graduated with a degree in History and Music in June 2012.
Following this I gained a Masters in Music with Distinction at Royal Holloway, University of London, and began a fully-funded PhD project based at the British Library and Royal Holloway. By this point I had started at RDA and the PhD felt like a completely separate life, but no less welcome for that! Unfortunately, in 2015 ill health made it impossible to continue such intensive research and to manage the travel required from home in Cambridge into central London, and I had to resign from the project.
Since then I’ve worked in education, specifically with disabled and/or vulnerable children. It’s a tough but rewarding job and it complements RDA coaching well.
Para-rowing and wheelchair racing
At the University of Cambridge I was heavily involved in rowing and subsequently classified as a para-rower. When my hand function deteriorated I had a go at wheelchair racing, and was soon competing at distances from 100m to half marathons, including being the first wheelchair racer to finish at the World Half Marathon Championships.
In September 2014 I revisited my earliest love – that of horses. I joined the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and despite initial scepticism that riding would still be too painful it was an immediate success in my eyes – I loved being back!
In 2016, I had my first go at equestrian vaulting and have never looked back. The sport combines gymnastics and riding and has numerous therapeutic benefits as well as being a lot of fun! I now have 12 national titles in the sport (the first of which was won mere months after first having a go) and I’m always aiming to push myself further and further. To find out more about my involvement in this unusual sport, please click here.