This year I made a decision: to get fit, and crucially, to get stronger. And in doing so I came to a sudden, very important realisation: I am disabled.
Of course I’d always known, and I had spent my life up until that point fighting it, or more accurately, trying to hide it. With exercise or sport, this attitude meant that I was embarrassed of my inability to perform like others, and ultimately gave up trying; sticking mostly to the basic cardio machines on low impact to keep fit. The little voice inside my head saying “I can’t” ruled outright.
However, this time was different. I’d joined a new gym, which was more ‘hands-on’ and insisted on giving personal training sessions and programmes to follow. At the start, these included some of the weights machines as well as other strength-building exercises to which I was new, and these gradually began testing what I thought was physically possible for me. In personal training sessions, the trainers made the point to introduce me to the machines and exercises I had automatically written off, in order to prove that there was nothing in the gym that was ‘off-limits’. And it worked. Slowly, the war on “I can’t” was underway, until one day that familiar inner voice was met with the answer “who says I can’t?”.
From there marked a pivotal shift in the way I viewed myself and my fitness journey. For genuinely the first time in my life, I began to fully acknowledge that yes I am disabled, but no, that does not mean I shouldn’t try. By accepting that it will inevitably be harder and slower to reach my goals in the gym, I developed a pragmatic approach which didn’t try to copy what everyone else was doing, but allowed flexibility to adapt exercises and objectives without feeling like a failure (as I had previously).
This new resolution has not meant that I have stopped pushing myself, quite the opposite in fact. By working with my disability rather than fighting against it, I have found where my limits really lie and I’ve learnt how to exceed them effectively. I have seen more improvement in my strength and overall fitness now than I ever did trying to be someone I wasn’t. Most significantly, my confidence has transformed; I now attend various exercise classes that I was too terrified to try before and love them (well, as much as you can love an early Saturday morning HIIT class!). I am still disabled, I still run into difficulties, but I no longer treat that as an excuse to exclude myself from the activities I really want to do. In short, my disability remains the same but my perspective on it has completely changed.
This year, I have discovered that this mental transition into believing that you are just as capable as the next person, regardless of any physical differences or disadvantages you may be up against, is the real key to success. My case in point is the fighting spirit of the Paralympians, A.K.A the Superhumans. I watch them in utter awe, inspired and amazed by everything they have accomplished, as do we all. However, while they undoubtedly deserve their ‘superhuman’ status, I have realised that this view is rather detrimental to the rest of us. They have faced challenges most of us can’t even fathom, but have overcome them by not letting their disability stop them, by not letting the words “I can’t” get in the way. This is what makes them truly inspiring: the fact that they are not superhuman, but simply humans who believe that with commitment they can do what they put their minds to. Imagine what we could all achieve if we all tried to think just a little more like them? We don’t all need to be aiming for Paralympic status to follow the important lesson that with hard work and due credit to ourselves, our goals are within reach.
So, my message is simple: the mental obstacles are what’s stopping you, not the physical ones. This blog is about my journey towards understanding that, and the struggle along the way. Because anyone trying to work towards a big change in their fitness will know that this is not easy (the last thing I want to suggest is that I just started believing I could do anything and magically I was lifting the heaviest weights, because that is definitely not the case!). However, it is about recognising the adversity ahead and giving it your best shot anyway, because (in case you haven’t got this already) you actually can do it.