As many of you know as you watched the programme, I was on 'Rescue Dog to Super Dog' a couple of weeks ago with my rescue dog, Zamba! For those of you who don't know what I'm going on about, I was a part of the recent TV series 'Rescue Dog to Super Dog' on Channel 4; in this series six people with disabilities were matched with six rescue dogs and then the dogs were trained to help the people, with me being one of them. I haven't been able to mention it/blog about it until now as it was all confidential. But, now the programme has been aired, I am free to tell you all about it, and more importantly, why I did it...
Zamba & I
First of all, I just want to say thank you so much to everyone out there for the very positive & lovely messages. I was very unsure I was doing the right thing taking part (which I'll go on to talk about), mainly because I was worried about people's reactions - strangers & people in my everyday life alike. When the production company found me (they found me through CP Teens UK!) and contacted me about the possibility of taking part, I was immediately like "YES!" - I am literally the crazy cat lady of the dog world, and I didn't even process the thought that it was a national, prime time TV programme; to be honest, I thought there would be hundreds of people with disabilities queuing up to take part, it just seemed very unlikely that I would end up being on the series!
To cut a long story short, I did end up doing it! I had a interview over Skype with the production company, which they sent to Channel 4. At the time of the interview, I was kind of in this crazy situation in my head - I wanted to do the programme more than anything but at the same time, it was my worst nightmare! The production company got back to me with Channel 4's 'verdict' of my interview - at the time, I was actually in a University lecture ... "Oh, do excuse me, Channel 4 on the phone!" (although, this turned out to be a regular reality - my life at times is just beyond bizarre!). When I spoke to the production company, they told me that the bosses at Channel 4 "absolutely loved me" - this is something that gave me a massive confidence boost and I'll never forget that.
So, with Channel 4 wanting me on board, we had some big decisions to make as a family, and I suppose this is where I want to make myself heard. I was terrified that people who know me would label me as one of those people who 'would do anything to get on TV'. This is most definitely not the case. I wasn't worried about the people who are close to me, because they would know the real reasons for my participation, which I'll go onto. It was more the people who aren't in on the 'inner circle' who think they know you - I was very concerned about them jumping to wrong conclusions.
So why did I participate? First and foremost, we're a family of dog lovers, especially rescue dogs - since we lost our rescue dog, Maisie, in May 2015, we had been wanting to give another rescue dog a second chance and a forever home, as well as giving our young dog Lottie a 'play mate'. We saw an opportunity that was a win/win for everyone by participating in this documentary. As a family, we could get a rescue dog and provide it with a loving home and the dog would get top class training to perform certain tasks for me, all whilst getting RaceRunning out there (on the Paralympic broadcaster!) and spreading awareness of Cerebral Palsy and CP Teens UK - not for promotional purposes, but, to share it with even more young people with CP and physical disabilities.
I was also very self-conscious about 'wobbling' on national TV! I thought, this is either going to provide me with the biggest confidence boost ever, or it'll destroy me, and there will be no in-between! I was expecting harsh comments on Twitter, I had prepared myself - especially after some of the tweets I have seen about Francesca Martinez when she has been on TV. I was shocked when I went on Twitter after the documentary had aired ... I went down the entire programme feed and not one single negative comment regarding my speech or wobbling! The only comments about my speech were a public outcry at Channel 4 asking why they had used subtitles in certain parts as they could "understand me perfectly well"! I don't personally criticise Channel 4 for using subtitles in certain parts, but the fact that the people of Twitter were complaining about it meant a lot. The fact that BBC Radio Sheffield decided to air my interview, BBC Look North felt that subtitles were unnecessary, topped with the fact that people took to Twitter to complain has boosted my confidence by incredible amounts.
So, to those wanting to question why I did it, please look at the bigger picture:
- I have an incredible, incredible dog who is my best friend and he now has a safe, forever home
- RaceRunning has been showcased on Channel 4, the Paralympic broadcaster
- Awareness of Cerebral Palsy has been spread
- More young people with Cerebral Palsy/similar disabilities have found and have accessed CP Teens UK
- I have basically spoken in front of millions of people. 3 years ago, I wouldn't even speak in class at school. My confidence has soared through my participation in this TV series. Furthermore, people recognise me when I'm out and about and they stop to chat - I wouldn't have had the confidence to chat to strangers this time last year.
It was a really great thing to be a part of, and thanks to the hundreds of lovely messages from the general public, I have stopped worrying about whether or not we made the right decision to participate in the programme. Only positive things have resulted from our participation, and surely that answers my question?!
In addition, I really hope young people like myself watched it and took confidence from it. If I wanted young people like myself to take 2 messages from it, these would be, 1) love dogs (haha!), and 2) don't be afraid of what other people think and use your voice!
I won't go into what happens on the programme as you can watch it on 4OD here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/rescue-dog-to-super-dog
Also, here is the advert for the series:
So, away from 'Rescue to Super Dog', on Sunday I am off to Denmark with the rest of the England team to RaceRun in the CPISRA European Championships! This is my second time away from home 'alone' (obviously I'm going with people!). I keep going from being unbelievably excited to unbelievably scared and airing on the side of not wanting to really go, and there is no in-between! I just wish I could take my dogs, haha! I'm sure I'll be fine when I get there. Even though I am 21-years-old, I can be a bit of a big baby at times! I've already told my Mum she can't say bye to me at the airport as that could be dangerous, and Matt will laugh at me if I cry, haha!
Team England 2016!
And now for guest blogger, Rachel Organ - thanks Rachel!
I’m 20 and it’s only fairly recently that I’ve realised just how hard it was for me to accept my disability. I’ve never had a problem talking about it: as soon as I learnt the explanations that my left side is weaker than my right, I had a stroke before I was born and I have something called left hemiplegia, I would happily tell anyone who asked.
If you mentioned the word ‘disability’, however, I was not happy.
I spent my life trying to appear ‘normal’. I wanted to be like everyone else and do the same things that everyone else could, in exactly the same way. When I played ‘It’ and I got tagged, and I couldn’t catch anyone, my friend would slow down and tell me just to tap her. Fat chance. I was going to play properly and run after people who were actually trying not to get caught.
I was never bullied because of my disability but I was patronised. And I hated it. “Well done, Rachel!” someone said when I actually caught a ball in P.E. “Well done, Rachel!” someone said when I successfully managed to drive a go-kart. I hated the fact that people put boundaries on me when I didn’t put any limitations on myself. I suppose they didn’t know how to react to someone with a disability. But then I didn’t know how to react to my own disability.
I think I’m making my childhood sound like a miserable, lonely time, but, I assure you, it really wasn’t! I’ve just come to realise that these things shaped the way I regarded my disability. I had a lot of determination (and still do) but it got to the point where it was a blind, defiant determination. When I was about 9, my physio told me that one of his patients had been in the Paralympics and maybe I could be one day. I got really angry inside and thought to myself, “If I’m going to be in the Olympics, it’s going to be the proper Olympics!” I feel so ashamed when I look back on that.
When I was 13, a consultant mentioned my ‘cerebral palsy’. I was shocked and confused. I had an image in my head of what cerebral palsy was: a person in a wheelchair, who could hardly move or communicate. I wasn’t like that at all.
It was around that time that I became more aware of disability. I had physio sessions in the school gym with a girl who had a similar condition, affecting both her legs instead of one side of the body. I remember her telling me that if she were given the chance to go back and be born without her condition she wouldn’t take it. “Why?” I thought, “Why?” But guess what? If I were asked that question right now, I’d give you the same response that she did. At the time, I didn’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be ‘normal’ but I’ve gradually realised just how much my hemiplegia has shaped and strengthened me.
Facebook has made my life so much better. It sounds like a funny thing to come out with but it has. Soon after I got an account, I joined the HemiHelp group, ‘for people affected by hemiplegia’. Suddenly, I was in a massive community of people who could relate to me in a way that no one had been able to before. I could ask them any question, however strange, and there would be people who knew exactly what to say. One particularly memorable moment was when I was encouraged to wear above-the knee skirts that exposed my splint. I did, and no one even stared!
Now, I accept that I have a disability. I’m not overly keen on the word ‘disabled’ but I will use it. I’ve learnt that there’s no point being in denial. My disability affects my life, I have to do some things differently to others and sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself to be sensible. I wouldn’t be me without it and, although it sounds cheesy, I think I can say that it’s made me a better person.
I mentioned to a friend the other day that I have cerebral palsy and she was pretty surprised. She’d pictured the same stereotype as the one I’d imagined before the consultant dropped those two words into conversation. It got me thinking: it’s such a widely held perception and it needs to be changed. Cerebral palsy is a massive umbrella term and people need to know. I thought that, if we could launch a campaign showing and celebrating the diversity of CP, it would be a step towards wider acceptance of disability.
This is what cerebral palsy looks like: