19 May 2015

Making a difference

A guest blog by 28 Too Many Ambassador Louise Hunt.

This is my first blog for 28 Too Many so I thought it would be a good starting point to introduce myself properly. My name is Louise Hunt, I am 23 years old and I have a disability called Spina Bifida (a condition where the spine does not develop properly, leaving a gap in the spine). 

Now all the boring factual bits are out the way let me tell you more about the real me! I am a full-time athlete, I play wheelchair tennis and competed in the London 2012 Paralympic games and I am currently on the "Road to Rio". Sport has always been a passion of mine from a very young age, I think it rubbed off on me from my family as they have always been very sporty too. My mum competed in basketball and netball to a high level, my dad was a Speedway rider (motorbike racing) and my older brother (Rob) competed for GB at cycle speedway, so it's definitely in our blood. 

As I was growing up whatever older brother did I wanted to do too and always gave it a go. My family never even saw my disability so if I wanted to try they would let me and if it didn't work we'd find a way to make it work, from abseiling in our back garden to jumping off our boat and learning to swim. Thanks to their support and encouragement nothing could hold me back. 

When I was around five years old my parents to me to Stoke Mandeville stadium where I discovered a variety of disability sports, but two sports really stole my heart, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair racing. I competed in both for many years, and I actually still hold an unofficial world record in wheelchair racing for the most wins at the London mini wheelchair marathon (I won 7). 

When I was 11 years old I held one of Tanni Grey-Thompson’s Paralympic medals and I realised that was what I wanted to achieve. I decided to dedicate my life to sport but I had to make a choice, as at the time I was still competing in two sport and to become a top athlete you can only really focus on one. I chose Tennis even though at the time I was much better and had been more successful at racing because tennis was always my real passion. It was the sport I found most challenging and therefore most enjoyable. 

Sport has always been about so much more than just winning to me. Don't get me wrong as I certainly have a competitive edge in me that I just have to have a release for and on the court I always want to win. However, sport also gives me a feeling of relief and freedom which I struggle to get from anything else. When I sit in my tennis wheelchair all the barriers I face day-to-day break down and I feel like I can achieve anything. It's a huge stress buster too! 

Other than sport though, my biggest passion in life is change! I currently do a lot of mentoring outside of my tennis and also make public appearances and speeches to a variety of audiences as I have seen what a positive effective sharing stories and experiences can have on others. Having support, mentors and role models is very important to everyone. I had the self belief and dedication to do what I did because I saw someone else doing it to and used them as a role model to believe in my own abilities. 

We live in an ever changing world which is amazing but we have to be careful it changes in the right way and for the positive! I feel like being a part of the last Paralympic/Olympic Cycle is one of the biggest movements this country has ever seen in terms of breaking down barriers and changing perceptions. Seeing this has made me realise anything is possible, in the space of 4 years we went from people watching disability sport simply thinking is was "amazing that we could even leave the house, let alone compete in sport" to our stadiums at the Paralympic games selling out and the crowd coming to watch elite sport at its very best. Paralympian’s have managed to gain the same level of respect as our fellow Olympians and it feels great. Seeing this change has made me realise anything is possible with the right approach and people involved with the right amount of passion, and persistence. 

So that brings me to how I am now involved with 28 Too Many.  I met Ann-Marie in 2011 on a flight home, whilst I was travelling back from two tournaments in South Africa. It was funny as I had a row to myself and just as we were in the air, Ann-Marie came over to me and asked if she could sit with me as she needed to get some sleep as she was teaching when we landed. The ironic thing is we didn't get any sleep whatsoever. It was one of the best flights I've been on. Travelling alone can get pretty lonely and boring to say the least but that 12 hour flight just flew by (pardon the pun). We literally didn't stop talking, and soon realised we had similar morals and passions in life and were both using our experiences to help others. 

We kept in touch over the years and earlier this year Ann-Marie asked me to become an ambassador for 28 Too Many, which made me feel really honoured. I was also a little nervous to begin with, as although I thought the charity was awesome and I'd been an ambassador before I wasn't sure how I could help. Then Ann-Marie invited me along to the launch event for 28 Too Many’s report on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Liberia where I learnt a lot more about FGM and heard personal testimony from women who had experienced it. It was very powerful and I completely fell in love with 28 Too Many and the work they are doing to end FGM. I am so excited to be a part the 28 Too Many team and can't wait to get more involved. I really hope my contributions as an ambassador will help bring about positive change and spread the word about FGM. Bring it on!

Join 28 Too Many and be part of the campiagn to end FGM. You can donate to support our research and campaign to protect girls and end this practice. Please also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the global movement to end FGM.