Challenging Myself

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27 Jul, 2021
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Challenging Myself

My name is Sarah, I am 24 and was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma of my right tibia when I was just 11 years old. This meant I had to have almost my entire bone in that leg removed and replaced with titanium metal. I was diagnosed just before I started secondary school and ended up behind in a lot of things such as schoolwork and friendships. While everyone was making friends, I missed several days to have treatment and even at lunch times I had to sit inside a classroom away from people as I was in a wheelchair and had a weak immune system. I felt like I couldn’t do anything myself as every doctor and nurse were telling me to take it easy. 

This was in stark contrast to my life up until that point. I come from a very active and sporty family and before I was diagnosed, I competed competitively in field hockey and swimming, hoping one day to represent my country, with the goal being the Olympics. My sister was a very competitive field hockey player who had scholarships to college and university, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I trained three times a week for swimming and twice a week for hockey, giving up most of my social life because I wanted to be the best. I held several club records at my swimming club and was a key player in my hockey team, helping us reach the South England Under 14 Final. My life came crashing down when my surgeon said these things wouldn’t be a possibility with my prosthesis and I’d most probably never be able to do these things again. 

During my recovery from my procedure, I had to have a lot of physio (and I still do now). One of the things I loved was hydrotherapy as I was finally back in a swimming pool. A year later, my old swimming club invited me to join in one of their swimming galas and I was thrilled. I couldn’t get in and out of a pool like I used to and couldn’t swim as fast as before but I still managed to place second. My swimming teacher then told me I should see if I could compete in the London Youth Games and be classified as a disabled swimmer. I managed to secure a place and competed a year later and won two gold and one silver medal. I was so proud of myself and vowed to not let anyone tell me I can’t do something ever again.

Fast forward on to 2019. I was working full time, and swimming became less of a priority. I was keeping fit by going to the gym, but it just didn’t feel the same as competing in a sport you love. I was still heavily involved in my hockey club by helping manage the top women’s team. I was then contacted by someone from England Adaptive Hockey who had received a recommendation from someone that I should play for the team. England Adaptive Hockey is a team made up of men and women across the country, who have physical disabilities or impairments. I told them that I couldn’t run, so there was no chance I could play. The manager of the team reassured me that when you have a team who understands your disability, I would be able to play, whether I could run or not. This is where it all started. 

My club heard the news and soon after had created a new team at the club for people who were coming back to hockey. Whether it was from injury, maternity reasons or even people who had never played. The club asked me to become the captain to encourage these people and nurture to help them realise that they CAN play hockey and I haven’t looked back since. I played every game for the full 70 minutes, every week, and even taught myself to run which my surgeon said I may not be able to do again. I have been pushed over, fallen on, whacked with a ball and stick and I was still not letting it put me off. Here I am two seasons later and I am still the captain of my amazing team, still represent England Adaptive Hockey and have even been asked to play with higher teams when needed. 

There are still some hiccups along the road. I still suffer a lot of pain and aching after I train and play, due to my muscles and bones not being the same as able bodied players. Not all hockey clubs are understanding of adaptive hockey and I often feel self-conscious in the way I run and play because I know people are staring. 

People say not to let your cancer diagnosis define you, but I am happy with how my cancer diagnosis has defined me. It has given me the resilience and courage to do things I would have never dreamed of before and taught me not to give up on something just because someone tells you that you can’t. Challenging yourself can be really hard, but it sure is rewarding.

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