Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

I broke my spine, but became a wheelchair racer

Lizzie Williams is a full time student studying Sport, Health and Exercise Science. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and is also a wheelchair racer and a T54 British Athlete.

She talked to us about her long journey to wheelchair racing and the expectations she has exceeded along the way.

The hydropool is sort of where my sporting journey began. Swimming in a pool was the only really physical activity I could do. As you are weightless in water, there’s obviously no pressure on your bones. I started that when I was really little.

I came back home and started training with a local group, got scouted for the ParalympicsGB team and was heading in the right direction for the London games but in 2012 I discovered that I had broken my back. Everything just sort of ground to a halt. I couldn’t do anything physical at all. My fracture wasn’t stable so I didn’t want to risk anything.

In 2013 I had the surgery on my back. After my surgery I was supposed to be in hospital for five days and they said I’d be walking out of there in a couple of weeks. I woke up from my surgery and I could barely move from the waist down. It went a bit tits-up I suppose you could say!

Having to learn everything again

I was in hospital for three and a half months learning to walk again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t even go to the toilet. I had to learn all those things again. I had to learn how to sit up in bed, how to transfer to chairs, how to take steps. That moment was the lowest in my life.

I was in my second year in college at the time and it just put a spanner in the works for everything. As I’d spend so much time in a hospital environment, I’d always wanted to work as a nurse because I really appreciated everything that they’d done for me. I wanted to make a difference. It sounds really cliche but I wanted to give back.

After my surgery I realised I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I’d been at college studying things like sciences and health and social care. I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore.

When I came out of hospital my sister was applying to university and I didn’t know what I was going to do or what options were available to me. At this point, I couldn’t get back into sport because I had to wait 12 months for the metal work in my spine to fuse to my bones. I decided that I was going to start the process again, go to a different college, do a different course and get the grades that I knew I could.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races an adapted wheelchair on a race track
Photo courtesy of Peter Milsom

The journey to wheelchair racing

After the metal work fused I started getting back in the gym and doing physical activity again. I was volunteering at an event that had Steve Brown, who is a GB wheelchair rugby player. We were talking to some of the kids and he said he used to train down in Worthing for wheelchair racing and suggested I check it out.

I did the 100m in 25 seconds and the coach who was there was like ‘okay that’s pretty good’. Three weeks later I was entered into the London Westminster Mile and I came second. It’s just gone on from there really.

I don’t just want to be a great athlete, I want to be someone that people can look up to and I want to encourage people to get into sport because it is really great!

I can’t imagine what I would be doing without sport. I just love life. Every opportunity is a good one. It’s another chance to show the world that there may be wheels there but there are some pretty good things alongside them.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

 

Featured image courtesy of Peter Milsom Photography