SHE was a promising young athlete with bags of ambition – but when Amy Stirling began experiencing pain in her joints as a teenager, she went from being the centre of attention to sitting on the sidelines.
The 30-year-old now relies on crutches to walk and a wheelchair to play sport after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in her knee and elbow. She also suffers from an autoimmune disease.
But she’s bravely bidding to fulfil her dream of competing in sport at the highest level – by taking part in the Paralympic Games. The NHS 24 worker, from Dalry, is desperate to play wheelchair basketball in Tokyo in 2020.
She said: “It took me a long time to accept that I have a disability, but when I finally did I was OK with it.
“It was a huge turning point for me. I realised that even if I do have more surgery I will never be without a disability – it is a part of me.
“I’ll never let it decide who I am or what I can do though.
“My aim is to play basketball at the Paralympic Games and encourage other people not to give up on their dreams just because they have a disability.”
Amy began experiencing pain in her knee as young as the age of 12, and by the time she was 16 she couldn’t straighten or bend it properly.
She said: “At first, nobody really seemed to believe there was anything wrong with me.
“It wasn’t until you could physically see something wasn’t right, that’s when the doctors started taking notice.
“I remember being 18 and being told I needed a knee replacement but they were reluctant to give me any surgery because I was too young.
“They gave me a bunch of treatments including physiotherapy and steroid injections, but nothing worked, and by that time my elbow had also stopped straightening too.
“In 2014, when I was 27, it was decided that I was both old enough and gammy enough to be given a new joint by way of the knee replacement, but it didn’t work. Perhaps if I’d had the operation earlier the outcome would have been different.
“I now walk like a drunk toddler and because of this I have developed a slight curve in my spine, one ankle doesn’t have a proper range of motion and my hips are not aligned.”
After spending last summer watching the Paralympic Games, with encouragement from her girlfriend, Amy decided to get back into sport.
She now trains with Lothian Phoenix wheelchair basketball team with the hope of eventually reaching the Paralympics.
After a meeting with RGK Wheelchairs, Amy is now raising money to have a unique chair made for her needs.
She said: “It feels incredible to be involved with sport again, to be part of a team who accepts you for whatever your handicap and to feel like I’m doing something for myself.”
To help Amy raise money, visit https://www.gofundme.com/basketballwheelchairforamy.