Not content with wheelchair basketball, Derry woman Perpetua O’Driscoll is now dabbling in Wheelchair Hurling and says she wouldn’t rule out getting involved in rugby if the opportunity presented itself.
It’s a far cry from the woman who admits herself that she did no physical exercise at all up until a few years ago.
Together with her husband Columba and children Callum and Angel, Perpetua has a hectic home life with the school run and trying to find spare time - and energy - to exercise.
Three years ago, Perpetua got to know the North West Eagles, Derry’s wheelchair basketball team. That decision to go along to her first training session is something which the 34-year-old says has changed her life.
Diagnosed with Spina Bifida at birth, the Hazelbank woman has always had restricted mobility and uses crutches while at home and for walking short distances. However, for longer distances, and family walks Perpetua is dependant on a wheelchair.
While keeping up with her children - who are 11 and 12 - had always presented a huge challenge for Perpetua, since beginning to get fit herself and with the help of a new wheelchair awarded to her by the ‘Motivation’ charity, life has changed substantially.
The sports wheelchair means the mother of two will be able to play her beloved basketball, and other sports with even less physical restrictions.
“I couldn’t believe it when I found out I’d been awarded the chair. I honestly didn’t believe I would get it and I’m delighted with it.”
Perpetua has never let Spina Bifida stand in the way of getting on with life and jokingly describes herself as stubborn.
“The whole time growing up and going through school it was never an issue for me, I wasn’t brought up thinking I was any different from anybody else and I suppose I didn’t let Spina Bifida make a difference to me. I’ve always just gotten on with life, really. With two children you have to, you don’t get a lot of time to think about things!”
The one change that Perpetua felt she wanted to make to her life was to get more healthy.
“Looking back now, I didn’t have a lot of energy and even after going along to training with the Eagles for the first time I felt exhausted. At that point I thought I definitely needed to do something about that so myself and Columba started taking walks out the line. I started pushing myself more in the chair and it’s amazing the difference that propelling myself made to my general strength. I soon noticed a real difference and I think then I really started to enjoy going along to the Eagles.
“I think if you’re not healthy you probably don’t enjoy doing anything much but when I started to get more healthy, I really felt the difference.”
Motivation, who awarded Perpetua her new chair, is the leading provider of quality products and training for disabled people both in the UK and around the world, and an organisation that’s passionate about giving disabled people a sporting chance.
Motivation’s Sports Fund is a pot of money provided by British companies who provide sports wheelchairs to children and adults who can’t afford to buy their own.
“Having my own chair would mean that I can not only take part the Basketball recreational sessions, which are on every fortnight, but I can take the chair with me to other places so that I can practice on my own time and also take part in competitive Basketball.”
Perpetua says she wouldn’t hesitate in recommending wheelchair basketball to other people with physical disabilities.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a great thing to do. There’s the physical aspect in improving your physical health and wellbeing, but there’s also the social side where you get to meet other like minded people so it can also really help prevent people feeling isolated.
“When I was growing up there weren’t the same opportunities that there are now but I think the paralympics have changed the way everybody thinks in relation to things like this and that’s brilliant.
“I’m really enjoying our hurling sessions with the GAA at the moment and I loved watching wheelchair rugby when it was on TV. I would definitely give that a go!” laughs Perpetua.
The Motivation charity has been providing affordable wheelchairs and training for disabled people in less-resourced countries since 1991. The specialist mobility equipment, training and support Motivation provides helps prevent people dying from preventable complications.
With the right wheelchair, fitted to meet an individual’s particular needs, and robust enough to withstand rough terrain,