I can’t believe I am writing this post as it only seems one minute ago that I was blogging about going to University. I was terrified. I had so little confidence in myself that I ‘knew I was only going to last a week’. I ‘knew that Uni wasn’t going to be for me’, but ‘at least I had tried it’. So, the fact that I am sat here genuinely gutted and very upset typing about how my Uni days are now over 3-years later, could be seen as an amazing thing, even though I don’t feel so amazing about it all ending!
Hand on heart, I have loved my time at Sheffield Hallam. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have had the ‘normal’ student experience, but I’ve had a great one nether the less. Away from my course, I’ve done and achieved things that I never thought were possible, and University has given me the confidence, and quite often the opportunities, to go out there and grab everything with my own two hands (not literally, Uni has not performed any miracles! We all know I do not have the coordination to grab anything with my own two hands, haha!). It is absolutely mind boggling to think that during my 3-years at Uni, I have (without blowing one’s trumpet!) done so much stuff, of course in-between the general falling all over the place! I have:
Got into RaceRunning & won Double Gold at the 2015 World Games and as the first female for England/UK
Handprint in Meadowhall following the World Games
Set up England’s first, and now biggest, RaceRunning Club
Been on BBC Radio Sheffield twice
Been on BBC Look North 3 times
Gained a Level 2 Coaching Qualification
Gained charity status for CP Teens UK
Held 2 CP Teens UK Balls, raising nearly £20,000
The Prime Minister’s ‘Point Of Light’ Award
‘Rescue Dog to Superdog’ - Channel 4 Documentary!
Woman of Steel 2017 alongside Jess Ennis-Hill
Disabled Students’ Rep 2015-16
Chesterfield Community Award 2016
Jack Wills Young Brit 2015
Placement at Sheffield Children’s Hospital
European RaceRunning Championships, Denmark, 2016
UK competitions and PB’s each season!
2016 CP Sport Track Athlete AND Field Athlete
2015 City Of Sheffield AC Chairman's Award
Selected as a CP Sport Ambassador
Ran (on my RaceRunner) the Parallel London 5k for CP Teens UK
Age Group Record RR3 Female 400m
Chosen to sit on the England RaceRunning Development Panel
Nominated alongside Hannah Cockroft for Yorkshire Disabled International Athlete of the Year 2016
CP Teens UK nominated for a National Diversity Award
‘Inspirational Person/Organisation’, Accessible Derbyshire Awards 2016
Featured as a story in the Uni Prospectus/website
Phew! Some of the above things are just totally bizarre to think that I have actually done them - me talking on the radio and starring in a Channel 4 Documentary? If someone had told me all of this 3-years ago, I would have laughed in their face! University has done wonders of good for me - I am now so much more confident and happier than ever before. It has pushed me, but pushed me in all of the right ways.
Rescue Dog to Superdog
I came from a school where I didn’t feel included and I was made to feel different by ‘peers’ in almost everything. PE was my worst nightmare. In fact, I didn’t do it. I left school with nothing other than 3 A-Levels. I had absolutely no direction and fell into sport by pure chance after leaving school and for the first time in a long time, I felt included. But, this was one-to-one with a specialist coach. The night before my first day at Uni, I went into meltdown. Why was I doing this to myself? No one was going to include a disabled student on a sports course were they? What a ‘stupid’ idea Ellie, can’t you remember PE and school as a whole?! … I was so wrong! I vividly remember getting into such a state that my Mum actually said “Right! If you come home tomorrow & it has been completely awful, you don’t have to go back, okay?!”. I now can’t help but laugh at all of this. If I knew what the following 3-years ahead had in stock, I would have literally been on cloud nine!
Sheffield Hallam 2016 Prospectus
A couple of weeks in, I had my first practical session. Again, I questioned myself greatly - why was I putting myself through this?! I thought it was another one of my famous ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ situations! But, I was literally put at the centre of the session without having all the attention drawn upon me if this even makes sense? We were in a coaching session and we were using cricket bats and balls. At school, the teacher would have immediately got me to watch, making out that I was ‘helping him/her’. To be honest, a part of me doesn’t blame them - I’m 99% certain the entire class would have gone home with black eyes, or even worse, concussion! But, the tutor, Andy, adapted it and I hit the ball first time without a single first aid kit in sight - result! From then on, it became the ‘norm’ for me to do everything and the other students automatically adapted everything without thinking twice about it. Practical sessions quickly became my favourite sessions, despite me hating PE at school.
I think what has also been really good at Uni is the fact that on the whole, I’ve felt really valued by other students. I mean, of course there has been those idiots who I just haven’t gelled with, but that’s life - you’re not going to get on with everyone. But, at school, it was literally every man and woman for themselves and it was rare I felt valued by so-called ‘friends’. Quite often at Uni, other students would turn to me and go “Ellie will know! She’s like the most intelligent!” - never understood this, I’m as thick as pig’s you know what half of the time! I was constantly like “Guys, I don’t know why you think I know, I don’t even know what day it is!”’, haha! But, it was nice to feel valued. I’d like to give a special mention to Matt & Joe - these guys have stuck by me and been great friends to me whilst we’ve been at Uni. Joe has come to every CP Teens event and has massively supported everything I do. As well as sharing my sense of humour!
Joe, Nikki & I at the 2015 CP Teens UK Ball
We did a ’12-hour challenge’ back in October as part of our degree and we had to do all sorts of random tasks. One of the tasks was to go and have a photo with the Pavilion in Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens, which was a fair walk. We reached the Botanical Gardens, but the Pavilion was at the other end and it was pouring with rain at this point. So, in true ‘Ellie style’, Joe went “RIGHT! We’ve not played this ALL day, we’re playing the chuffing DISABLED CARD!”, hahaha! I couldn’t stop laughing for a good 10 minutes! But, you know they’re a good friend when they trot that one out! Joe has just moved really close to where I live, so this softens the blow a bit of University coming to an end.
When people go to University, I think they have this ‘vision’ of what it ‘should’ be like with moving away from home and having a new found independence being pretty key in that vision. At first, I was very frustrated that I wasn’t able to fit in with my ‘vision’. I’ll be honest, it took me a little while to manage my own expectations - I have always said that probably the one & only thing that ever bothers me (and only occasionally!) about having Cerebral Palsy is that sometimes, no matter how much you want something, it is just not going to work and in this case, I wasn’t going to suddenly grow a pair of working arms and legs to allow me to live in line with my ‘vision’ of how Uni ‘should be’. So, time to move on and I’m a great believer in the fact that things happen and are how they are for a reason. I now fully understand that reason - the list of things I have done and achieved at the beginning of this post during my time at University have happened because of that different path I’ve had to take.
Even though I have not had, and never will have, the same level of independence as everyone else because of my rather useless level of hand control (read the blog post ‘Legs are overrated’ - they really are in comparison to hands!), my own personal independence has really improved during my University. It has definitely taught me not to compare myself to others as I did at school and when I first started at Hallam - I have had major personal triumphs in the past 3 years and life is much more exciting when at the age of 21, you have a mini party because you have successfully made yourself a cheese toastie for the first time! Even if it was using a paper plate, the most blunt knife from the back of the kitchen draw and soft goats cheese - health & safety matters, haha!
My time at Sheffield Hallam has been incredible and I would do it all again if I could. I am so much more confident than I was when I walked in 3-years ago - I thought I was pretty much not ‘rescuable’ in terms of confidence, but Hallam got in there and pulled it out of the water and put it back onto land (rubbish metaphor, I know!). A big thank you to the entire SDC team for having me on the course and for supporting me through.
Sometimes, I do wonder how I have managed to do University for the past 3 years as well as being an athlete (as well as taking on RaceRunning) and running CP Teens UK. I’d be lying if I said there hasn’t been a few meltdowns along the way and tiredness has been my friend throughout. But, if you’re passionate about something, you find the time and make it work. Giving one up was never an option and rarely entered my mind - if it ever did, it quickly got a royal ‘pee off’!
Finally, touche to every single person who said I would never, ever ‘get to anywhere like University’! Enjofy your humble pie!
Sheffield Hallam Sport Photoshoot