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Blog: “If I can climb a rock then I can do anything!”

Activity Alliance features a blog post every Friday. This year we have been sharing experiences of disabled people involved in sport and exercise at all levels. Today, we continue this theme and hear from Emily Banks who cycles, swims, attends spinning classes and goes climbing and caving. She tells us how and why her active journey began five years ago.

Emily climbing a rock.

Hi my name is Emily, I’m 35, I live in Wirral and I am blind. I also have Osteoporosis, anxiety and depression.

I take part in plenty of activities – here’s my exercise schedule:

I swim quite regularly and attend spinning classes at my local leisure centre two to three times a week. I cycle on a tandem at least twice a week. I also participate in rock climbing and caving with the Bendrigg Trust, a residential activity centre specialising in courses for disabled people and people who are disadvantaged. I go with a group of my friends – depending on accessibility these are four to eight times a year.

Due to my visual impairment I need a pilot (a front rider) when I go out on my tandem, and I often swim with a friend and guide, although I can swim at my local pool on my own if I can have my own lane.

The groups and activities I am involved in have a mixture of sighted and visually impaired participants. This mix has been great as I've gained support from fellow visually impaired and sighted participants - I have made some great friends.

My being active journey started five years ago when I was introduced to these types of activities through the Bendrigg Trust. Through the trust I attended a multi-activity weekend for people with sight loss. I was intrigued and liked the idea of the challenge and I can honestly say this weekend changed my life. I made life-long friends and achieved more than I ever thought possible.

2017 saw me attend my first ever triathlon training weekend. This was the first time I had ever been on a tandem, done a front crawl swim and also run with a tether and guide. Prior to this I had never contemplated that it would be possible to do a triathlon but the training courses at Bendrigg, and support from my local leisure centre helped made this possible.

I love how being active makes me feel. Spinning classes and swimming always give me a huge buzz and makes me feel more than capable. Swimming also gives me a sense of freedom and I feel quite liberated afterwards.

Being out on the tandem is a lot of fun and I like socialising with my pilot. I also enjoy being able to move around easily with the guidance of my pilot – this gives me reassurance I’m safe. Afterwards I feel exhilarated.

Climbing and caving makes me feel fearless and powerful. During all these activities I don’t think about my visual impairment, I just feel happy.

The achievements I have made through these activities has given me much more confidence in myself. This confidence has gone on to support me with employment and within my personal life. I used to have a lot of self-hatred about myself and experienced anxiety. Now, I am feeling stronger and more confident in my own abilities – if I can climb a rock then I can do anything!

The support of my friends and family has been really important. I have some great mates who are willing to guide me on runs and on the tandem. I would not have been able to achieve and enjoy all the activities without them, as well as the staff and volunteers at Bendrigg.

I’m also a part of the triathlon Bendrigg Facebook group. This has been a great way to support and encourage each other and share experiences. This Facebook group also gives me another platform to speak with other people who have sight loss. Enjoying these activities gives me a sense of belonging, and a feeling of solidarity.

The rest of the year sees me tandem cycling in the Lake District, experiencing a few caving trips, including an advanced caving course. I’ll be taking part in the Sprint Triathlon in Kendal in September. I’m also hoping to go on a climbing trip Spain in December with a group of friends.

My advice to other disabled people who are thinking about being more active but aren’t sure is – just give a go you have nothing to lose and potentially a huge amount to gain. The activities I have taken part in over the last few years has changed my life.

Find out more about the Bendrigg Trust via its website, or Twitter @BendriggTrust.

If you want to be more active but aren't sure how to start, visit our dedicated webpages for advice.