There’s one thing Amber Rose Shaw, who is 16, has always wanted. And that’s to be as independent as she can be.
Amber, who lives in Walkden, had hip surgery as young child, has a dislocated right patella and walks with a significant limp. She has a physical disability that causes muscles weakness, posture issues and she struggles with co-ordination. Amber also has special educational needs. But that doesn’t stop her achieving what she sets out to.
Currently studying for a BTEC level 3 in ICT at Bolton Sixth Form College, Amber hasn’t always had the best experience of physical education. But she knows that moving more helps her stay healthy, means she can manage her conditions better and gets her closer to becoming independent
After doing some inclusion and sessions on making leisure centres more accessible with Ben Andrews at Empower You, this got mum Deanne and Amber thinking about both their own health.
Deanne says, “After starting activity sessions we could see the positive impact regular activity was having on Amber’s mental and physical health. But then lockdown happened!”
However, Amber and her mum weren’t going to let a pandemic stop the good work they had started. When the sessions they had been attending couldn’t continue and were no longer suitable for Amber’s needs, Amber and her mum started walking to more places in their community. From that she started playing catch in the park, swing ball in the garden and Amber has even taken up therapeutic horse riding.
Amber says, “I really enjoy just going for a walk round the park now. I especially like walking round Black Leach in Walkden and seeing the ducks.
“I love going horse riding at Foz fields as the staff and volunteers are lovely and know how to support me properly, which is very important to me. I love seeing Dinky the horse I ride too! It’s so much fun and I'm learning lots of new skills, like how to care for Dinky, as well as meeting lots of new people.
“I'm also really enjoying going swimming, as I love being in the water. I’m much more mobile in the water and I’ve even tried an aqua Zumba class! I’m going to learn to swim next.
“Being active is helping reduce the tightness I suffer from in my legs and it’s helping me feel stronger.”
Deanne says, “Since March both Amber and I have become much fitter. She doesn’t need to relay on her wheelchair as much and her co-ordination has significantly improved.
“At first it was just about giving Amber some positive experiences of getting moving. At school PE lessons weren’t always adapted for Amber, so she spent a lot of time just sitting and watching the others. Now she’s in college and she’s striving for independence, I wanted to do as much as I could to support that. And stop us staring at the same four walls during lockdown!
“Amber’s come on amazingly. Moving more has helped with her strength, coordination and stamina, meaning she can cope better with longer college days. It’s helping her become more confident and independent. Getting active gives her the mental and physical skills to tackle new things.”
Since starting at college September, Amber has been proactively finding gaps in her timetable and suggesting to Deanne how they can get active during her down time.
Deanne says, “It’s been really great to watch how much she’s come on. She’s gone from someone who’s had such a bad experience to actively pestering me to do new things. Sometimes I can’t keep up!
“We’ve just joined our local gym in Walkden, which has been another massive milestone for Amber. Getting used to being out in the community on her own is a massive step towards independence, and the staff at the gym couldn’t be more supportive of Amber’s journey. They’re so welcoming and treat her like any other customer.
“Being active helps me find a few minutes of space to myself, to centre myself and to be even stronger to support Amber in whatever comes next. As a carer I feel it is important we are supported to look after our own health, as it's hard to care and support someone when you’re struggling. Moving more really helps with my mental wellbeing.”
Amber, who juggles college with being a member of the Salford Youth Council and campaigns for inclusion, says, “While these things may seem small, they’re huge steps for me. I want to let others know that they can do it too. It doesn’t matter whether you’re able bodied, or have a disability, everyone can do something. Don’t let negative experiences put you off finding something you enjoy.
“My biggest piece of advice is to listen to your body. Some days I need to use my chair, some days I can do stuff unaided, and some days I just need to take time and rest. I don’t feel bad now when I’m having an off day, I just do what suits my body at that time. Whatever you do, however little it is, it all counts.”