Natasha, a young disabled woman, smiles as she performs a gymnastics routine on a beam

Natasha Coates, the gymnast who is allergic to exercise

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast. She has a condition called Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). It means that she is allergic to a long list of different things, including exercise.

For 30 Under 30, she talks about disability sport and how she manages her condition whilst doing gymnastics.

I started gymnastics when I was eight at my local leisure centre.

When I was 18 I suffered a life threatening allergic reaction. I went into anaphylactic shock completely out of the blue and we didn’t know what had triggered it. Then it happened eight times in two weeks and it’s pretty much not stopped since. I’ve probably had over 250 life threatening allergic reactions since then.

I’d been doing gymnastics for a long time and I switched to disability gymnastics at 19 because I was unable to keep up with mainstream gymnastics. Disability gymnastics gives me the opportunity to still train and compete safely.

It was difficult to go from being perfectly fine one day to having this condition the next. It happened pretty much overnight. I found it difficult to refer to myself as disabled, I didn’t really know what it meant. Doing disability sport really made me realise who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, lies in a hospital bed holding her thumb up and smiling

Adjusting to train

I’ve made a lot of adjustments to my training because of my condition. I can’t train nearly as much as I used to. I maybe do six or seven hours a week. Most gymnasts do 30.

So when I exercise I lose the feeling from my elbows down and knees down which makes it difficult to feel the equipment. So when I’m on bars I can’t actually feel my hands catching the higher bar, I can only feel the drag down if I’ve caught it. So it creates quite a few barriers, especially whilst doing gymnastics!

I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes I do think I can do everything like everybody else because I train with mainstream athletes so I try to keep up with them. I get frustrated when I can’t.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, leaps into the air during a gymnastics performance
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

The British Championships

When I competed this year I was waving at the crowd, showing everyone what I could do. I placed first on floor and I’d only started tumbling a few days before. I’d just got out of intensive care 12 weeks before that.

I came off the floor and just burst into tears. My best friend is my coach as well and she knew the lyrics to the song I’d chosen and what it represented and we were literally just sobbing into each others’ arms.

I’m not aware of the crowd when I’m performing because I’m so focused, but when I did the end I could hear the audience. I presented to everyone and people came up afterwards saying my floor was amazing and it was really nice to see the emotion. After all the work and effort that I’d put into that floor routine it was really nice for them to feel it as well.

Making way for the next generation

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime. I feel like the more I raise awareness of disability gymnastics, the more I can pave the way for the next generation.

I’d recommend anyone to try disability sport. You don’t have to be representing Great Britain, you don’t have to be good at it – if you’re enjoying it that’s all that matters.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, flips upside down during a gymnastics competition
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

Natasha joins us for a Facebook Live session at 4pm on Friday 24 June.

She is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

To find out more about Disability Gymnastics and how to get involved, visit the British Gymnastics website.

Header image courtesy of Alan Edwards