Four years ago Jane Mackenzie was wondering what was the point of life. Then she discovered Sportability. Catherine Scott reports.
Jane Mackenzie loves nothing more than tearing through ditches and muddy paths on a quad bike.
But four years ago Jane struggled to even get out of the house as Multiple Sclerosis had confined her to a wheelchair.
“When you have a condition that gradually makes you increasingly disabled your world starts to get smaller and smaller,” explains Jane.
“I live in the countryside down a bridle path, but in a wheelchair it becomes very difficult to get out of the house.”
Jane had been working as a science teacher and lecturer in America for 14 years when she was diagnosed with MS.
“I suffered numbness and weakness and was diagnosed in 1992, but then went into remission for nine years. But then, in 2001 it came back with a vengeance.”
Jane has relapsing and remitting MS, which means every time she has a bout she loses a little more mobility.
“I had to leave America in 2005 as the heat seemed to make it worse so I came back to the UK and moved in with my parents to help them run their kennels and cattery near Pontefract.”
But gradually Jane was able to help less and less, until in 2011 she ended up in a wheelchair full-time.
“You could be forgiven for thinking that life as you once knew it is over and from now on it’s a matter of making the best of a bad job. One place you can’t get is outdoors. I live in the country and have always enjoyed it – hiking, sailing, canoeing – but those options were out for me. I can’t spontaneously decide to go out. I have lived in the country all my life, but for four years I haven’t been ‘in’ it.
“I am fiercely independent but a disability robs you of that. I couldn’t drive and I really struggled to maintain a positive outlook on life; it has a massive effect on you psychologically. I started to think ‘is this is?’ If this is how bad things have got in 18 months what on earth is going to happen to me?”
Two things happened that changed Jane’s life.
“I started on a new treatment. Tysabri is an infusion treatment which means I have to go to hospital for it every four weeks. It has made a big difference, it has kept the MS in place. It made me realise that I could still do things and I decided to make a plan to try to get out more and do more things.”
The second thing happened when she decided to attend the MS Society conference in Manchester and came across the charity Sportability.
“The Sportability tag line is that they take the ‘dis’ out of disability but they do so much more than that – Sportability has quite literally changed my life.
“They introduced me to things that I thought were totally off-limits to me. From feeling confined to my bungalow, I began getting out and about water skiing, quad biking, blokarting, gliding, flying, canoeing and so much more. Slowly my attitude to being in the chair began to change and life in general became so much happier.”
The only problem was there was no Sportability in Yorkshire, and so Jane had to travel up to six hours to get to events.
She started to do something fund-raising for them and then in 2015 she was asked if she would like to set up a Yorkshire regional Sportability.
“It was what I was hoping for,” says Jane, who still gets emotional thinking about the impact the charity has had not only her but on her family.
“My parents have been amazing, My dad takes me everywhere and David Heard, Sportability’s chief executive, told me that as dad watched me bomb off over the fields on a quad bike he said ‘Thank you for giving me my daughter back’. It makes me very emotional.”
For the last two years Jane has organised events across Yorkshire for people with neurological conditions including MS, cerebral palsy, stroke and spinal injury.
“We have more than 40 people on our list but each event can only take 10 to 12 people. We don’t actually run the events, we find out places that can cater for people with disabilities and Sportability fund it.
“Some people use it as an introduction to a sport which they then continue with independently, others just want to do our events. A lot of it is about meeting other people as well. The social side is very important.”
Jane has organised quad biking, sailing, indoor sky diving and sit skiing, to name but a few.
“In 2016 I organised six events and this rose to 12 in 2017 and then 17 last year.
“The bonus is you are surrounded by helpful, understanding, friendly and extremely positive people. It’s wonderful, fantastic.”
Running the Yorkshire branch of Sportability doesn’t leave much time for fund-raising and Jane says the charity is in need of a corporate sponsor in Yorkshire which would ensure even more events could to be organised and even more people with disabilities could be given a new outlook on life.
“I get so emotional when people say what a difference it has made to their lives.
“I had one guy who had been involved in a motorbike accident and said he never thought he would be able to do anything like it again.
“It is my absolute pleasure and privilege to host and run events, passing on the Sportability message that your disability is no obstacle to getting out there and just doing it.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Sportability has given me my life back. I am back to being me.”
For more information on events across Yorkshire or to see how you can help with sponsorship visit www.sportability.org.uk