Andrew McDonald takes part in the London Triathlon for Scope

Scope chair Andrew McDonald is getting ready to compete in the team relay category of the AJ Bell London Triathlon series on 8 August.

Andrew, who will swim 1.5km in the race, will be joined by Finbar O’Callaghan, a consultant paediatric neurologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who will be doing a 40km cycle, and Jonathan Hoare, director of Investor Networks at ShareAction, who will run 10km.

The team has chosen to raise money for Scope and the Cure Parkinson’s Trust.

Andrew, who is a trustee of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, says: “None of my team has taken part in a triathlon before and so we thought we would begin with the biggest in the world, the London Triathlon.

“We wanted to do it for two causes close to our heart: Scope, the disability charity and The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. Roll on 8 August!”

Mark Atkinson, interim Chief Executive of the disability charity Scope, says: “We’re delighted that Andrew, Finbar and Jonathan have decided to take on the London Triathlon for Scope and The Cure Parkinson’s Trust.

“I know that Andrew will approach this challenge with the same energy and commitment he applies to everything he takes on. We wish them all the best of luck for the event.”

Andrew was appointed Scope chair in October last year.  He had a successful career as a senior civil servant, most recently as chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007 and has incurable prostate cancer.

Sponsor the team.

“Crocheting on the tube has pushed me out of my comfort zone”

Elisabeth Ward works in content marketing, and has an upper limb congenital amputation. Despite some challenging roadblocks, Lis likes to be creative and keeps a blog of her successes, difficulties, and more

I couldn’t find my craft

I’ve lived with my disability for 25 years. I’ve grown up facing challenges, finding my way around things so that I’m not excluded. I’ve always been a creative person. I enjoy drawing but art classes where I had to actually make or build something were just depressing, fiddly and frustrating. Everything I made looked like a child’s creation!

This stopped me making crafts for ten years – why put myself through that disappointment and frustration, because I lacked a second hand?

A knitting obsession was born

However, jealousy, stubbornness and determination threw this reluctance to the wind when I saw a friend become a knitter. One minute she had a ball of yarn and the next it was a cutePhoto showing one foreshortened arm holding a knitting needle and pink yarn strawberry hat. I wanted to be able to do that. I wanted to be able to start with materials, and end up with something that I could proudly say I made.

But I watched her knit and I couldn’t see a way around it. Two hands seemed to be essential. I looked at some YouTube videos, even checked out one-handed knitting videos (there weren’t many), and decided to just get some needles and yarn – I’d work out a system as I go. I found that holding a knitting needle under my arm and wrapping the yarn around my amputee arm was sufficient enough to allow me to knit with my left. From that point I was addicted. I felt confident and good, in my mind I had just achieved the impossible and it felt amazing.

Therapeutic benefits

Aside from the sense of achievement and excitement, I found knitting incredibly relaxing and therapeutic. I often worry about stuff I can’t control, from work stress to disability stress to general life stress, I feel like I’m juggling so many balls and with no right hand to catch them, I have to scramble around to keep them up in the air flying in all directions. Well, that’s how it feels anyway.

However, the repColourful wool knitted into s scarfetitive motion of knitting is one of the most relaxing things I have discovered – the familiar movement is comforting and calming in a way that is hard to describe. I’ve had days where unwinding from a hard day has seemed  impossible until I’ve picked up my knitting needles. I think that’s why it is so addictive – having your hands, or hand, busy, can help stress, anxiety, even sadness and anger leave your body. It’s almost magical.

Then came crochet

Once I mastered knitting, I had the bug and wanted to try crochet. This seemed simpler, one-handed even, as most of the yarn work was left-handed. It was trickier than I anticipated and very fiddly – I had to buy ergonomic hooks so that I could hold the hook between my amputee hand and my leg.

A selection of crochet squares in different coloursCrochet required perseverance and eventually I grasped the mechanics with my hook wedged between hand and leg. I sometimes find myself doing things a harder way because I haven’t taken a step back, looked around and thought ‘what can I use to make this easier?’. I’m usually too focused trying to do things as though I have two hands. But sometimes you just need a bit of help, even if it’s from an inanimate object. So I realised after about a week of practising that the ‘strap’ I use to hold my knife while eating would work well to hold my crochet hook.

I was able to speed up dramatically and it almost felt as though I had two hands.  My second craft addiction was born and I now live in a house overflowing with yarn!

It’s given me newfound confidence

I crochet on the tube as it’s easy to stop and start on the go, so I make a granny square during my commute. This takes every ounce of self-confidence I have. I don’t like people staring at my hand. I know it’s human nature but it makes me feel less human, like my hand defines me in their eyes, and I’m seen only as disabled.

A crochet circle with colourful patterns on itWhen I crochet, it’s different. People still look and stare, but now they see that despite missing a hand, I am capable of creating something beautiful, that I am many things and not defined by disability. It may just be in my head, but I feel that those watching me crochet one-handed see more than just a disabled girl. I also figure that the more people see it the less they will be shocked by it, helping to break the taboo.

Before, I would hide so that I wouldn’t be judged on my hand rather than my personality, I would hide so others wouldn’t feel uncomfortable or alter their behaviour. But crocheting on the tube has pushed me outside my comfort zone, helped me to not hide my hand when I leave the house.

Sense of achievement

Creating crafts has boosted my confidence, reduced my stress, helped me to find a peace within myself and has given me a pride and sense of achievement that I’ve never really had before. It’s helped me truly believe that I’m not defined by disability, I am defined by me, by my individuality, by my determination, by my weaknesses – I am a whole, not made up of just one but many parts.

My life has transformed and I hope to help other disabled people find their therapy in learning to knit or crochet, sharing my methods so they can find theirs – are you up for the challenge?

Do you have any creative hobbies that you find therapeutic? Elizabeth is on our online community now and would love to hear from you. You can also talk to her on Twitter @ElisabethWard04