Tag Archives: CP

My job at Goldman Sachs is a holiday compared to the pressure of the Paralympics

Five-time gold medallist Sophie Christiansen is competing in her fourth Paralympic Games this summer. The equestrian won three of her gold medals at London 2012 with her horse Janeiro 6 so expectations for Rio are high.

In this guest blog post, Sophie, who has cerebral palsy, talks about witnessing first-hand the growth of the Paralympic movement and how she handles the pressures of competing at a top level.

My family isn’t at all horsey. I don’t think I would ever have ridden if I hadn’t been disabled.

I started riding when I was six with the Riding for the Disabled Association to improve my coordination. When I was about 13 I found out about dressage and I was hooked. When I’m on a horse I can forget about my disability and I can compete on a level playing field with other disabled people.

The riding school where I learnt dressage, South Bucks RDA, had a history of training Paralympians so they were looking out for talent from the start.

Being selected for Athens in 2004, aged 16, was incredible. I was ParalympicGB’s youngest athlete. I learnt such a lot from that first experience of the games.

To be selected for my fourth Paralympics this year is a huge honour. I’m only 28, but I’m seen as a Paralympic veteran!

Changing attitudes

The Games have changed so much since my first time in Athens. The standard is so high and there is a lot more interest.

We’d be used to competing in front of 200 people – that would be a big crowd – but then in London there were 10,000.

In Beijing there was a lot of interest from the public and we attracted a really big audience. But there was so little media coverage. I won my first Paralympic gold medals and it hardly got a mention.

I think attitudes have changed. There was a lot expected of London in terms of changing perceptions and I think it did achieve it, to a certain extent. It showed disabled people achieving some amazing things and I think people who aren’t disabled were inspired by what we could do.

But I know a lot of disabled people felt it did not represent them and I totally understand that. It’s why I make it my mission to talk about my life outside sport, about the barriers that still exist in society, whenever possible.

Road to Rio

I’m really looking forward to Rio and I hope people get behind us. It will be a shame if they don’t manage to sell tickets and the stadiums are empty. But as an athlete, you just have to get on with it and focus on your event.

It would be great to see more coverage of disability sports. At the moment there’s the Paralympics every four years and then nothing in between. I think it would help disabled athletes get more sponsorship and make disabled people more visible. If people can’t see disabled people, they just don’t exist.

Relaxing with maths

I work as an analyst at the investment bank Goldman Sachs in the technology department. This might sounds funny, but I see my job as like a holiday from the highly pressurised atmosphere of Paralympic sport.

I’ve always had a logical brain and I love maths.

They’ve created the perfect role for me, which fits around my impairment and my sport commitments. I know it’ll be hard for me to progress in my career while I’m doing dressage, which is frustrating. But everyone I work with is so understanding. It would help support a lot more disabled people into work if more employers were as creative and flexible with roles as mine.

When training in a Paralympic year, it’s about knowing how to balance training with fatigue. It’s difficult because I’m a workaholic, I’m always working. That’s my biggest challenge, knowing when to stop.

Pushing myself outside my comfort zone is how I’ve always lived my life. I never thought I’d have a job in London. I enjoy the independence it gives me and it enables me to pursue dressage.

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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 our Parlympics survey

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

Cerebral palsy didn’t stop me cycling round the world

Howard’s cerebral palsy required him to make big efforts to learn to balance and walk on two legs, but he found his true calling on two wheels. Howard has now cycled across over 60 different countries, taking him from Albania to New Zealand

In this blog he tells us of his adventures and how his bike helped him live an independent and intrepid life.

The date is December 26.

The day?

My third birthday.

And lying at the bottom of the stairs? The gift that is going to change my life!

A bright red Gresham Flyer trike!

A young boy standing proudly with his bike in a black and white photo
Howard and his Gresham Flyer

Maybe a year earlier the weakness in my muscles, the lack of flexibility and co-ordination had been ascribed to my being affected by cerebral palsy.

But soon I would discover that the legs that were failing me in my struggles to stand, balance and walk would quickly be capable of pushing pedals….and they have been doing that now for six-plus decades on an almost daily basis!

Strange to say, but balancing on two wheels was to prove so much easier to accomplish than trying to do so on my two uncooperative legs! This ‘graduation’ to bicycles took place when I was about nine-years-old, but not before I had made many, many wobbly manoeuvres and rather destroyed  some privet hedges in our local park when I used them to stop myself, or just fell in!

The door to ‘adventure cycling’ had now been pushed slightly ajar but confidence and competence to ride myself into ‘unknown territory’ would yet take a couple more decades.

And so it was that very gradually my cycle commuting as a student, first in Leicester and then latterly in Glasgow was ‘spiced up’ with short adventures in Scotland and Ireland. And I must confess that it is the big dollop of uncertainty which tends to characterise my ‘roughly planned expeditions’.

A bike in front of some icebergs in Iceland
The ‘mini-icebergs’ of the Jokulsarlon, Iceland

Give me a map and I will quickly devise an adventure! My early ones took me to the Faroes, Nordkapp (the northern tip of Norway), Newfoundland, Turkey, Greece – travels which embraced me with trials and tribulations, frustrations as well as joys – but inevitably a huge store of stories and anecdotes.

My total of countries ‘explored’ by bike is now in excess of 60, including a circuit of Iceland, crossing the Canadian Rockies, New Zealand and less well known places such as Macedonia and Albania, Jordan, the Balkans at the ‘tail end’ of the war there, and many others.

Notes roughly scribbled along the way were transformed into diaries which have permitted me to relive those days on the road and nights camping wild in ‘obscure isolation’.

Howard crossing from Alberta to British Columbia, Canadian Rockies
Howard crossing from Alberta to British Columbia, Canadian Rockies

To Latvia and back (and back again)

Liepaja is a modest sized city of about 72,000 people, set on the Latvian coast some 200 kilometres south of Riga, the capital; a port and major naval base in the era of the Soviet Union.

On a very hot Sunday afternoon in August 1997 I am cycling leisurely through its quiet streets, dusty with the pollution from the massive steel works here, and following roughly the tram route leading me in from its northern boundary.

At the southern terminus, beside a sprawling but very neat and heavily tree-shaded cemetery, there is gathered a vibrantly colourful flower market. I linger here awhile, before pressing on south towards Lithuania. But before long I have selected for myself a lovely secluded spot to camp for the night, tucked in among the pine and birch trees which populate the dunes on this unspoilt coastline of fine, white-sand beaches. Nearby a gaunt watch-tower speaks of much less cheerful times!

I do not expect that I shall ever visit Liepaja again.

Almost 10 years after my ‘Baltic Odyssey’ I find myself hosting ‘V’ and ‘N’, two Latvian ladies making a very brief visit to enjoy the attractions of both Glasgow and Edinburgh. And they come from Liepaja! Not believing that I know of their home city, let alone having cycled through it, I show them my diary account, rather unflattering as it was! And also perhaps a little unfair of a place that has been struggling to free itself from its Soviet legacies.

But my brief encounter with them is to acquire a most unexpected dimension when, a few months later,  V’s daughter Anna appears in Glasgow to register to study at the University, a University that I know had made a big impression on her mother!

Family friendships develop and by the end of that Summer I am indeed back in Liepaja!

I can see that enormous changes have taken place…..and I quickly decide that they make the best confectionery I have ever tasted!!

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is to discover that their family home is less than 10 minutes’walk from that memorable tram terminus, just where the city meets the countryside!

I have since returned a number of times and the creation of many kilometres of cycle tracks has greatly elevated it in my estimation since that first casual pedal over its bumpy, pot-holed streets!

‘Where do you think he is now?’

A photo of a bike against a desert background
Howard’s bike as he cycles through Wadi Rum in Jordan

When my mother would ask of my father ‘Where do you think he is now?’ he could only and honestly reply ‘I’ve no idea’!

But then she had at least attained her ultimate goal of getting me on my feet (in quite the literal sense!) and to live an independent life.

And now my book Pasta, Punctures and Perseverance: Diaries of Cycling Adventures is something of a ‘compendium’ of 15 of these narratives.

My hope is that it may give inspiration to others to make similar adventures too.

Royalties accruing from the sale of the book will be donated to Scope, so I’m hoping it proves popular!

So, please don’t just wonder what lies around the next corner – go and have a look – preferably on a bicycle. And don’t ‘cheat’ by interrogating Google Earth!

If you’ve been inspired by Howard’s story and are looking for more globe-trotting tales, buy his book Pasta, Punctures and Perseverance: Diaries of Cycling Adventures – and all of the royalties will go to support our work at Scope. 

“I see my Cerebral Palsy as a real gift because I can inspire people.”

In this blog, author and public speaker Patrick Souiljaert tells of how he conquered his fear of speaking in public and turned his story into a book, Stairs For Breakfast

Six years ago I never thought I would be where I am today. Back then, I had a good but mind-numbingly boring IT job – and had no idea that I would become an inspirational speaker and published author.

I’m often asked where the title for my book Stairs For Breakfast came from.

In 2011 while viewing buy-to-let properties I was waiting for the estate agent to arrive. Puzzled, seeing a disabled man standing with crutches, the agent asked me whether I was okay walking up the stairs as there were quite a lot of them. Off the top of my head I replied “Yes I’ll be fine, I eat stairs for breakfast.”

“What fear would you like to overcome?”

Never will I forget the first time I spoke in front of about 50 people.

Towards the end of 2011 I attended a three day wealth and lifestyle course. On the second day, John (the guy teaching the course) asked the audience “What fear would you like to overcome?” Without thinking I put my hand up and said “Speaking on stage in front of people” and John invited to come and join him.

As I walked up onto the stage I felt a mixture of nervous tension and of adrenaline. However when I sat on the chair and saw the audience looking at me I thought ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ and I started to hyperventilate for what seemed like ages. Out of breath, I said a few times “I’m alright…I’m alright!”. Then I thought ‘Screw it’ and I went into the present moment. Relaxed with a big smile, I said “I can overcome anything!”

I only spoke for a few minutes about my journey over the last year or so and said that I want to make a difference in the world. The audience stood up and gave me an awesome round of applause. It was so exhilarating and I felt a great sense of achievement. So many people came up and said to me “You’re amazing”.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

I’m a great advocate for feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’ve had that approach all my life. It’s a great way of stretching yourself and growing.

My mindset is my greatest asset. Growing up, my family never treated me differently and encouraged me to be independent. I don’t think or see myself as being disabled. There’s nothing I cannot do. Having said that I’m not into playing football and I’m no Pavarotti!

I enjoy setting myself challenging goals and like doing ‘the impossible’ –  things other people say I won’t be able to do. In the early 1990s for example, having a passion for working in radio as a producer, I joined a local hospital radio station, where I met Ted who told me that I would never work in radio. I later went onto to work for three radio stations, working with Ted at one of them!

By leaving my IT job-for-life and going into property investment in 2010, I’ve learnt so much about people and success. It has also taught me my purpose in life: to help and inspire people and to make a difference in the world. I see my Cerebral Palsy as a real gift because I can inspire people.

Ascension meditation

Something else I’ve learnt in the last few years is ascension meditation. It’s a practice about being very aware of your thoughts – and becoming the observer of your thoughts, rather than identifying with them. Ascension relaxes the mind and brings you into living in the present moment. Amazingly, I have found ascension not only relaxes my mind but it also relaxes my body – making it easier for me to walk and talk.

People tend to worry about the past or the future. But here’s the thing; the past cannot be changed and the future hasn’t happened. The only time which ever exists is right now!

Perception is a funny thing. People are inspired by seeing how well I cope with life physically. To me, physically, my life is a piece of cake. People have no idea of the emotional trauma and pain I have been through and overcome.

Anyone can overcome and achieve anything in life. All you need is self-belief, persistence and enough desire. Here I am demonstrating self-belief, desire and feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Writing my book

I had so much desire to write a book on how to overcome adversity and achieve anything you want. It took me 15 months to write 216,000 words – all typed with my left index finger. Little did I know I had written enough content for two books! The sequel is yet to be published.

My main motivation for writing my autobiography was I knew it would help and inspire people – and it would give me a platform as inspirational speaker. I also love to make people laugh!

Since self-publishing Stairs For Breakfast last year, I have been picked up by Hay House in America. Also having the chance to work with Scope, I see infinite and exciting opportunities of making a difference in the world.

You can purchase Stairs For Breakfast on Amazon and directly from me http://stairsforbreakfast.com/buy-now (I’m cheaper than Amazon)