First things first, don’t panic I am not going to spend this post writing about Prince Philip or any of the Royal Family for that matter. D of E is an activity programme for young people between 14 and 24. There are three different levels, bronze, silver and gold. The award comprises of four sections-physical, skills, volunteering and the expedition. Whilst at school I managed the bronze and silver levels. This covered a wide range of activities which you had to show progress in over a course of 6 months and personally for me a number of challenges.
For the physical section, I chose trampolining. In this I had my own personal battle with a move called ‘swivel hips’ (not as much fun as it sounds!) This move involved doing a seat drop, coming up to standing and rotating 180 degrees before doing another seat drop. Therefore you needed to flip your legs round underneath you whilst in mid-air. Something I just couldn’t manage despite all of my attempts and frustration. I felt that I just resembled an electrified baby giraffe with my arms and legs flying everywhere despite my best efforts! Thankfully at school my teacher was very understanding and allowed me to get stuck into other moves which I could manage.
Another area that caused issues for me was the skills section. For this I chose piano, which I was learning to play at the time. I only discovered a few weeks ago that this is in fact one of the hardest instruments for someone with CP to play (thanks for putting me up to that Mum and Dad!) This is because of the coordination required between both hands and both feet all at once. The reason this causes problems is because my brain sends the wrong signals to my legs so the messages between my brain and legs gets very confused. This was something I completely didn’t think about throughout school and my time playing piano. I just kept plodding on and progressing very slowly never thinking my CP was responsible for my frustrations! In fairness I was never destined to be the next Paul Macartney so probably didn’t put in the practice I needed to but there are some battles I am resigned to losing!
Of course, the major component of this whole programme was the expedition. In Bronze this involved two days walking and one night camping, silver was three days walking and two nights camping. To many people, this sounds like a nightmare but I really enjoy getting outdoors so was excited by the challenge. My close friends whom I completed Bronze with hated it and bailed on me for the Silver! As a group we had to carry all of our equipment (tents and all the rest of the paraphernalia) for the whole expedition. We had to plan the whole route and timings from each start point to our campsite in the evening. This was a test of our teamwork and navigation skills! When it came to the expedition, I didn’t want to do anything differently to the rest of my team despite my physical impairments. This meant that throughout the Bronze expedition when we divided up the kit, I took my fair share and walked the same distance as everyone else. During the silver expedition, as it was further my school offered for me to be driven some of the way and to join up with the rest of the team for the majority of the route. I strongly turned this down as I wanted to feel like I had fully completed it. Instead, they offered to take some of my share of the kit and bring it to the campsite each evening to save me from carrying it. After much persuasion, I agreed to this as they were massive bags. Even so, I only gave them the minimal amount (I think I just ended up handing over my sleeping bag!) as I wanted to be challenged. The rest of my team were most disappointed that I didn’t hand over the tent and other heavy items but I didn’t want to cheat myself.
Whilst on the expedition itself, I constantly felt that I was holding up the remainder of my team as my walking was slower (although looking back I know this was not the case as we were stopping regularly for breaks and for all different members of our team to stay together). Whenever we stopped for a break (or I tripped and fell over) I would feel like a beetle on its back as my arms and legs were sticking up in the air with the giant bag tying me to the ground! It took a heck of a lot of effort for me to get back upright and stop the bag pulling me down again. It often felt like a slapstick comedy act as the slightest tap would cause me to topple over like a dodgy Leaning Tower of Pisa. During our silver expedition in Exmoor, we managed to get extremely lost. So much so that our teacher had to come out and help to point us in the right direction. He also helpfully told us that if we arrived at the campsite after dark we would fail. As a result of the ultimatum we started running uphill across a very uneven field with knee high grass and heather. Due to the uneven ground, I inevitably went flying and crashed to the ground. Now as my bag just about doubled my weight this was a big load to collide with the ground. I fell awkwardly on my little finger managing to bend it way too far back (like one of those weird party tricks your double jointed friends would show you in primary school-not sure what was so amazing about it, to be honest it just freaked me out!) When we got the campsite I decided it would be worth getting my finger checked as it had swelled and was very painful. I was promptly told it wasn’t broken and was just given some minimal strapping. It throbbed overnight but we still had another day of walking to get through so my attention was taken up with not getting lost and making it to our destination as soon as possible. My high pain threshold also came in handy at this point and meant I could just put my finger on the back burner. When I got home, finger still in pain, I ended up going for an x-ray and as a result was told I had a fracture! Result! Despite everyone else telling me it was nothing, this felt like a mini victory!
So there you go. My account of the dramas faced during Duke of Edinburgh. Despite all of the obstacles I faced, I was determined to complete this challenge without any allowances for my CP. I hope this shows that although things may be challenging determination and the right support will allow you to achieve things you thought were beyond you.