Saturday, 13 April 2013

Journey to Yorkshire -RIBI 88th Annual Conference

Last Saturday I took part in my first track event of the season down at Kingston Athletics Stadium. I managed wins in the 100m and 200m, and a second place in the 400m and I was pleased with my performance. It was also the launch of the WeirArcher Academy, a new initiative by David Weir and his coach Jenny Archer that aims to change young peoples lives through sport, something I can fully relate to considering how much sport has improved my own life.

I had a busy week training and managed to do a few long road sessions as well as a couple of sessions in the gym and I'm starting to feel like a proper athlete again after a long winter break. Even after not racing in the  London 2012, I still  love and enjoy the sport too much to give up, and as long as I have the strength and energy to compete I will keep going though may be on a different level.

On Thursday I got up early to make the journey up to Yorkshire where I had been invited to speak at the 88th Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland held in Harrogate. ( ) I was to speak at the RIBI Foundation lunch. The journey was fine and I was met at York station by two Rotarians, Peter Knowles and Roger Percival, two lovely chatty blokes who gave me a whistle stop tour of York, pointing out places of interest that included the magnificent York Minster and the ancient castle. It is a truly beautiful city, steeped in history and I only wished I had more time to have a proper look around. I was told that at the Jorvik Centre you can smell the Vikings and feel the war!

We drove through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside as we made our way to Harrogate, a town I was informed was famous for its many wells that were said to have curative powers that could heal the sick. We arrived at the well named Majestic Hotel, which amongst its many claims to fame boasts the biggest gents toilets in Europe! I said goodbye to Roger and Peter and thanked them for their kindness and company.

Debbie and Mike Hodge (my hosts) helped me to check into the hotel, then I went to my room to freshen up, agreeing to meet them for dinner in the evening. 

We had a lovely dinner in the hotel and were joined by  Jannine and Paul Birtwistle from Guernsey, a wonderful couple responsible for the 'End Polio Now' teddy bears. We all had a lovely time, chatting about all the excellent work done by Rotarians around the world. I really enjoyed myself.

After breakfast with Debbie and Mike they took me across to Harrogate International Centre for registration, then we headed to the House of Friendship where there were many stalls that showcased the many projects that the Rotarians support, such as Aquabox, a charity that provides safe water for those in desperate need, the ABC Project that works in Uganda providing medical care and treatment to HIV mothers in the rural areas so their babies don't get infected, the Children's Air Ambulance that helps save and change young lives in the UK, Mercy Ships UK which changes lives in Africa by performing eye operations. One organisation that particularly caught my eye was The Wheelchair Foundation UK, a charity that gives hope, mobility and freedom to millions around the world who need a wheelchair. "Yesterday I was a maggot on the ground. Today I am a butterfly". This is called empowerment and is what I received when I got my first wheelchair. I felt very humbled as I went around the stalls and it became evident that one doesn't need to be a millionaire to support others. I have learned to give, not because I have too much but because I have known the feeling of NOT having.

It was time for lunch and I was given the great honour of sitting on the same table as David Buchanan, John Minhinick (RIBI President 2012 - 13), and Rotary International President Sakuji Tanaka, whose theme for this year is,'Peace through service'. I had gotten a 'End Polio Now' teddy which needed a name. John Minhinick suggested  'Sakuji'.I shall be taking 'Sakuji' on all my future talks and my hope is that by the time he is 3 polio will have been eradicated from the world!

I was called up onto the stage to speak. As usual I was really nervous but once I started talking the nerves disappeared.  I looked out at the gathered Rotarians and they filled me with joy and optimism to see so many committed people who are ready to serve others.  In the morning as I was dressing I had intended wearing a beautiful pair of high heeled shoes, blue, to match my dress, but as I wheeled across the room one fell off and I knew it was a recipe for disaster so I just wore my tatty old suede shoes that I would normally wear with jeans. When I was a young woman growing up this would have mortified me because I was so embarrassed of showing my thin polio legs and  always wanted to look good and fit in. Being  older and wiser I now  know disability doesn't come with a manual and you just get on with life and be happy. To be honest, it does not matter if the glass is half empty or half full ... I have learned to be grateful I have a glass and there is something in it. 

I had a few hours to mingle with the Rotarians before Roger and Peter drove me back to York where I got my train back into London.

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