Karate scholar Amber reflects on taking up a brand new sport at University, the challenges she faced as she felt her body failing her and bouncing back after some life changing news.
I’ve always been an active person, but during my teens I had a bout of ill health which caused me to stop exercising for almost 10 years. When I came to University, I wanted to start exercising again to improve my health and fitness and make me feel powerful, to regain my strength and confidence. I eventually settled on Karate in my second year as it suited my busy schedule.
My first session involved a lot of strength training; I was surprised at how much I could actually do. Immediately I fell in love with how good it made me feel.
I always thought a sport like Karate would be too tough for someone with a petite persona like me, but after that first session I was hooked and got involved in everything I could.
I joined the committee, graded every chance I got and participated in every competition available.
In my fourth year, I achieved my first brown belt. I was working hard and progressing well, but something wasn’t quite right. My body started to fail me and I couldn’t keep up with the sessions or my studies. I was referred to many different specialists to try and work out what the problem was.
It was during this time that BUCS Nationals was being held. This is the biggest competition of the year, involving universities and colleges from all over the UK. I didn’t want to miss out and managed to get myself to a stage where I could attend the competition, but I had to wear a full back brace for support which left me with limited movement.
Somehow, I went on to win the category on unanimous decision, becoming ‘Female Intermediate National Kata Champion’. I’ve never been more proud of myself than that day. I still don’t know how I managed to pull it off!
I felt like I could take on anything the world threw at me and worked hard to get back on track physically. My hard work paid off – I earned a spot on the national team, represented my association at world champs and received various awards at the 2016 Sports Colours.
After this, I was finally diagnosed with ‘Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome’, which is a genetic fault, making my connective tissues weaker. This causes a whole host of problems such as joint dislocations, extreme hypermobility, fatigue and joint pain. This condition isn’t recognised as disabling in the sporting world, as being hypermobile is often seen as a bonus.
Even though this was life changing news, this was not the end of my athletic career, but only the beginning. I wasn’t ready to give in; I went on to win a European Bronze medal in the Female Team Kumite (Fighting) later that year. I’ve also represented England multiple times.
I still have problems that can affect my training. When I started CDT Fluid Dynamics, I was at a point where I would sneeze and my hip would dislocate. I had to walk with a stick.
A year on, I’m working hard in S&C sessions and I’m now a Sports Scholar here at University. This allows me to compete at the highest level whilst studying for my degree.
The point is: to get back up when you are knocked down; take care of yourself when you have to; and never think that you can’t achieve something because of who you are.
This girl can, and so can you.