Image credit David Guest / Ordnance Survey

Mel Nicholls, T34 Paralympic Athlete and Adventurer, told us why she loves to explore the outdoors.

For me, being in a busy shopping centre, or trying to navigate through crowds either on my crutches or in my wheelchair isn’t much fun. I get knocked off my balance, I feel anxious as I can’t process through the many voices, people rush around you and often into you or landing on you, without much consideration, and generally these places for someone with a neurological disability can be a struggle.

Outside, I am me. The wind might be howling around me, the rain lashing down, and I might be pulling myself up a rocky ledge. But out here I feel alive, I have all the space I need to find my balance and all the time to take a minute and process and work out my next move, my way.

I have always loved the great outdoors, and always had adventure in my soul. I love sport and I love racing, with such a passion. But for me it is about much more than winning. Getting to do a sport that keeps me outside is very important to me, and any chance I can, away from my day to day training, I take to my own adventures. Pushing myself, as I do in my sport, but also reaping the rewards that being outside, amongst nature, in the elements, and in such beauty of our wild world when we take a moment to stop and really notice. It is certainly cathartic. As well as the physical benefits to anyone getting active outside, as someone with a disability I know my time spent in the hills, with the trees in the woods, and climbing up rocks with my arms, continues to make both my body and mind stronger. Parts of my body don’t work and never will, but my belief in what is possible, and mindset grows with each challenge, every time I head out into the unknown. It is calming yet empowering, it helps me refocus, yet I dream up a million plans in an afternoon. It is the best medicine for some time out alone, and yet the greatest get-together for friends and families.

It is important to stretch our comfort zones, it is the only way we improve. If you’ve only ever pushed to the end of your road, you’ll never know just how far you can go. Equally, if you’ve never been camping with your friends and roasted marshmallows on a camp fire, you won’t know just what that kind of an experience can bring. The gain in confidence, independence, friendships, and sense of adventure. Getting mucky and being pushed through squelchy mud is so much fun, for everyone involved! Yes, you’re going to get filthy and mud up to your armpits, but it brings out the inner warrior in you and soon you’ll be using your muddy fingers to paint battle stripes on your face and everyone around you.

I am an adventurer, I seek out wild places and tell untold stories, but adventure does not have to mean climbing mountains and sailing the high seas. Adventure is just as much a state of mind and can be accessible for all. It’s just about finding your way. With the right support you can abseil, raft down a river, take a pony trek through the moors, or spend the day with friends on a hill, with a hot flask of tea and a packet of biscuits. If it’s adventurous to you, it’s your adventure, and to me, there is nothing better.

I know I cannot climb Everest and I cannot mountain bike as I used to down the hills near my home. But through being brave enough to get out there and try, not caring what I look like or how slow I am, I have achieved far more than I ever thought possible and have found ways to do and to ‘can’, rather than to ‘can’t’. I have sat down (stand up) paddle boarded rivers and solo handcycled some of the wildest and most remote islands in the North Atlantic, carrying everything on my bike. I have taken tea (complete with teapot) with friends at sunset on top of a hill after they pushed me up there in my wheelchair to watch the sun go down on Midsummers day, and I have swum off the wild Pembrokeshire coast on a chilly November morning as the sun came up. Most recently I achieved something I have only ever dreamt of for the last ten years since my last stroke. Using specially adapted crutches and an incredible support team, I climbed a mountain.

Every one of those adventures meant so much to me. Many I never knew if or how much I could, and out of each of them I gained so much. Whether that’s learning and growth, or friendships and teamwork, so often moments stripped me back, to give me back me. Physically stronger and fitter and feeling like I could take on the world but at the same time feeling humbled by the world around me.

I have many more plans and more wild places to explore, my way, and I hope through my work and my adventures I continue to inspire others to find their way. I believe we are all Beyond Barriers and there is ALWAYS a way. Here’s to Getting Outside and Getting Active, Adventure Awaits…

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