Meet Sarah - disabled hiker and ambassador for Acai Outdoors. Sarah has been living with a crutch since 2016, but soon found that getting outside and staying active helped more than just her physical health.
Keep reading to find out how Sarah uses hiking and nature to support her physical and mental health.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you're from / what you do for a living / the nature of your disability?
I am originally from St Helens in Merseyside but I moved to Keswick in the Lake District in 2021. I work in IT in West Cumbria. I rolled my ankle during the RAF bleep test back in August 2015 which resulted in an Osteochondral Defect in my left ankle. I was medically discharged from the RAF in April 2019. Over the past decade I have had two surgeries, multiple injections and intense rehab but have been left with chronic pain, and it's looking like I now also have osteoarthritis in the same ankle.
How long have you been living with a disability and how has it affected your daily life both physically and mentally?
I have used crutches since my first surgery in April 2016. Initially I was very depressed but over the years I have learnt to focus on what I can do and not what I can't. Not every day is easy but I can cope better on the bad days now.
How has hiking and nature helped you mentally and physically?
Hiking is my natural pain reliever. I can momentarily push the pain to one side and just focus on being in the moment and putting one foot in front of the other. Being outdoors is essential to both my mental and physical health.
Do you encounter preconceptions about disability when hiking? How do you feel about them?
Most people are kind and make positive statements when I am out and about, however I do get asked "what's the crutch in aid of" or other phrases to that effect which just isn't anyone's business but mine! It can be frustrating but I know that most don't mean any harm by it. They just don't understand and need educating.
Are there any things you've found have helped support you or impacted your mental health in a positive way when it comes to living with a disability?
My family and friends, especially my husband Leigh and my sister Kirsty. It is so important to have a support system in place.
What is your biggest struggle living with your disability?
The pain. The frustrations when I think I'm having a good day and it goes down hill. When I build up hope that the next thing my surgeon tries will help, but then it doesn't. It is such a rollercoaster ride. Before I injured my ankle I was an avid runner, and it still pains me that I can't get out there like everyone around me and run. I try my best to focus on my hiking, which I love, but I always feel there's a piece missing.
What advice would you give to someone facing a life changing diagnosis or injury?
Take it day by day. Seek out support. Push for second opinions if you think it's needed. Find something that makes you happy and focus your energy on that. It takes time to get to the acceptance stage but you'll get there.
What keeps you motivated?
Reminding myself of how good I feel after a hike, and knowing that being as fit as I can be is only going to help me and my disability in the long term.
If you could change one thing to improve the lives of disabled people, what would it be?
Educating others. We need to be more visible. Things need to change so that it isn't a shock to see someone on a crutch up Scafell Pike.
When did you start using Cool Crutches or Sticks or both, and why?
I only recently bought my first Cool Crutch (Emerald Sky) and I love it. They're just so fashionable and comfortable, especially on my hand. There's nothing worse than using a hospital crutch long term, Cool Crutches have made me not mind about using a crutch now!
If you could have a dinner party with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
Sir David Attenborough. My educational background is Zoology and he is my hero!
If you could have a dream day out with anyone, doing anything, who would it be with and what would you be doing?
My husband and my sister hiking in the Lakes followed by a pint in a local pub.
What's the best advice you've been given?
Everything happens for a reason.
Is there anything in the pipeline you're excited about and would like to share?
I recently completed hiking my second round of the 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District which I did to fundraise for the Alzheimer's Society, a cause dear to my heart. I am always looking at new ways to challenge myself. I've already hiked a marathon, an ultra-marathon and a multi day hike (Cumbria Way). Stay tuned to see what's next!