'I was paralysed and pregnant – powerlifting gave me confidence to live again'

Strong Women is a weekly series championing diversity in the world of sport, fitness and health.

Each week we speak to women who are redefining what it means to be strong and challenging preconceptions about women in fitness.

A Sport England study found that one of the biggest reasons that women avoid physical activity is because of a fear of judgement.

We want to change this and remind people that women of any age, race, size and ability can be fit, strong and love their bodies.

Mercy lives in Kenya. Her life changed forever at 27 when she developed a blood clot in her back. Even after surgery, she was left unable to walk.

After receiving a wheelchair through Motivation and some training, she felt more independent. She began powerlifting and is now part of the national Paralympic team.

What happened when you lost the feeling in your lower body?

Seven years ago, I had a blood clot in my lower back. I had surgery and it was removed, but I had lost sensation when I got blood clot. After the operation I still had no sensation.

My feeling was shock – many things changed. I became dependent on others to help me, yet I used to do it on my own. There was self-denial – I could not accept it. I felt that my dreams had vanished.

How did it feel to be suddenly in a wheelchair at just 27?

I used to stay at home and I had no confidence. My life was a mess. My family did not know what to do; I could not get out of bed, I became more reserved and quiet.

I was discharged from hospital and for six months I had no wheelchair. I couldn’t to accept I needed a wheelchair and I needed lots of assistance.

I did not know what other people were thinking. Some of my friends were supportive, but others I did not see anymore. My family gave me a lot of support, especially my mum.

At the time I had a boyfriend and I was pregnant. He stood with me for some time, but I did not want to be a burden. There came a time when it was not working. I had a lot of confusion, but he could have tried harder.

The wheelchair I was given did not last for six months. It had no cushion, it was uncomfortable, I had a pressure sore in my hip and I used to struggle with my bowel movements.

I was trained to use a catheter, but it was so embarrassing to wet myself.

I had no skills to use the wheelchair because I was given no training or assessment, I was just given the wheelchair. When I was fitted with my Motivation wheelchair, I saw it was very important to get a correctly fitting one.

What made you turn to powerlifting?

Someone I know contacted Motivation – a disability and development NGO – for me in 2014. They supplied me with a wheelchair. It was a strong wheelchair. I began their peer training programme and I learnt a lot.

Before, I did not want to talk. I learnt how to communicate about my needs. I came there with an assistant who would push me and transfer me from the wheelchair. After peer training I started becoming more independent and doing things for myself.

Before the training I thought “I cannot” about tasks. Now, after the training, I think “I can.” Now I do everything for myself.

Peer training gave me the confidence to start powerlifting. It gave me self-esteem and confidence. I could not think I could do powerlifting, but I proved that I could.

I started powerlifting to lose weight because I was in a wheelchair. I had started to gain weight and I did not want to get bigger.

I had a desire and passion for sports – powerlifting was doable for disabled people, as you only use your upper part of the body, no standing. I saw that sports would help me achieve my dreams.

How has powerlifting helped you? 

It has improved my health, now I am physically fit and strong. I can challenge even non-disabled people.

Now, I am aware of my rights and I am confident. The gym is on the second floor and they have to lift me up the stairs. But I am pushing for change to install a lift or ramp for wheelchairs.

Powerlifting has opened doors: my society appreciates what I do. I was even nominated to represent disabled people in the board of management at one of the local schools.

Making it on to the National Paralympic team was my dream in sport being fulfilled.

How could things in Kenya be improved for people with disabilities?

Disabled people live a very challenging lives here in Kenya, for example; the environment is not accessible, even roads, and many residential houses have no ramps or lift.

There are only stairs, which makes it impossible for disabled people, especially wheelchair users, to get a house to stay in. We have no support from the government. My parents helped me to improve wheelchair access in my own home.

Before my accident, I had three boutique shops in Nairobi and was making good money. I lost the business because the hospital was expensive and it was difficult to collect stock when I was disabled because I had to use public transport. After my accident I made yoghurt to sell.

If we expand peer training like the Motivation programme, we can help more people and change more lives.

I made a proposal to the government to provide funding to conduct peer training for persons with spinal injuries. I am much more confident to push for this and get more help for people with spinal injuries after my training.

What are your hopes for the future?

I want to excel in sports and powerlifting.

I also want to extend support to other people with spinal injuries, because I have the training and support I would like to help them. I can relate to these people.

I have experienced what they are going through. I can provide the knowledge of what it is like to live a full life with spinal injury.

I am Team GB

Toyota has teamed up with Team GB to re-launch the hugely successful participation campaign ‘I am Team GB’.

Inspired by the achievements of Team GB athletes and the amazing efforts of local community heroes, Team GB has created ‘The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day’, which will take place on the 24thAugust.

Over the weekend, there will be hundreds of free and fun activities across the country, put on by an army of volunteers; the ‘I am Team GB Games Makers’.

To Join the Team and be part of The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day sign up at: www.IAmTeamGB.com

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