Blog: “Training has improved my balance, coordination and stamina”

The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) website features a blog post every Friday throughout the year. In 2017, we'll be sharing the experiences of disabled people, and those who support disabled people, on their journey to being more active. This week, Lauren Sanders tells us about her three main sports – swimming, climbing and archery.

Lauren Sanders on the wall in an indoor climbing centre

I’m 30 years old, live in Preston Brook (Cheshire) and I have spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

I currently train regularly in three sports – swimming, climbing and archery. I usually also go to the gym two to three times a week, so my schedule is usually pretty packed with a job too. I swim five times a week in coached sessions and twice by myself, so I feel like I spend most of my time in a pool! I climb three times a week and am currently training to get back into archery after a shoulder injury. Most of the work is in the gym and with a sports physio but I’m hoping to return at the end of the year to shooting outside.

I swim in two clubs, one is Warrington Warriors and the other is Warrington Masters. I get the best of two very different environments with team mates during the week. I climb with a group of friends who have all got into the sport over the last couple of years with me. It has become a social situation as much as exercise for us. Archery is much the same, I tend to shoot with friends and with that you meet others in a group who become your shooting partners!

I started archery in 2014 after participating in a Paralympic Potential event in Birmingham. After that everything was a whirlwind and I got offered a place on the Archery GB Academy. I had to give this up in late 2015 but still wanted to continue archery outside of that, so I joined a local club.

Lauren Sanders standing next to archery target

In early 2015, I had a spinal operation to help with my disability as it was deteriorating rapidly, and this meant learning how to walk again. During my recovery, I was told swimming was the best remedy to help build strength and so I joined a club in October 2015 to get some tips. Needless to say it wasn’t long before I caught the bug and I began competing in early 2016.

It was actually thanks to my swimming coach that I got involved in climbing after he took me and a friend for a taster session. I was awful to begin with, I couldn’t lift my leg more than a couple inches off the ground and ended up crying about three metres from the ground due to a fear of heights. However, somehow I got hooked and I started going regularly with a friend once we had learned the basics. I started competing nine months later, which was such a buzz.

I enjoy the sense of accomplishment after every session, the feeling that you have achieved something rather than just watching. The more active I am, the less I think about what I might not be able to do and more about what I can do. I find myself getting frustrated with everyday life sometimes and sport helps with that frustration.

Being active has given me my life back. It may sound corny but it really has. Having a disability has meant that I constantly felt restricted on what I could achieve. I have gone from leading a sedentary lifestyle and hating myself because of the disability, to being more active than I ever thought I could be and embracing my life. Training regularly has helped improve my balance, coordination, overall fitness and stamina in everyday life. Simple tasks such as standing unaided to make a cup of tea or getting up a set of stairs have become easier.

It has given me a new outlook on life. I have gone from sitting inside and feeling helpless to being out every day, embracing my disability and having high aspirations to compete at the Paralympics and one day be a world champion. I started late but I don't think you can put an age on who can achieve success!

It has also inspired me to help others, and I am now training to be a personal trainer.

Without the support of my friends, team mates and family I honestly don't feel I would be leading the life I am. Although I feel independent and strong, I feel like that because of the little bits of help I get each day. From someone holding a bag, to lifting my leg on to a hold in climbing! Everyone is so supportive and whatever I am doing I have people behind me, pushing me to keep going and reminding me how far I have come which is priceless.

Now that I have more flexibility and less pain there are so many sports I would like to try. I am looking to try weightlifting, canoeing and also snowboarding which I have wanted to do for many years. I never thought I would get to the point of doing what I do now, so to try other sports is so exciting and it has opened up a world of opportunities!

If you’re thinking of being active, I'd say what is the worst that can happen from trying? There are so many sports and exercise programmes which can be completely adapted now, and there are always options to get involved. It’s not only the health benefits of being active but it’s also the social aspect of being part of something. Times are changing and there is so much support out there that I would encourage anyone to just give it a go – embrace your disability and challenge yourself – reap the benefits!

For more information about starting swimming, visit the Swim England website. More information about getting into climbing can be found on the British Mountaineering Council website.

To find out more about archery, including opportunities to get involved, visit the Archery GB website.