Welcome to the grand finale of the #AdventureSeries! Introducing Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike
Introducing Anne Wafula Strike; MBE, athlete, author, mother, and sporting ambassador. She is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary woman with a powerful story. Anne was given the middle name of Olympia at birth, a title of great significance for the future and the hurdles she would face in forthcoming years. Born in Kenya, Anne was a fit and healthy child before polio struck when she was two years old. This occurrence was to shape Anne’s destiny. She exceeded all educational expectations and despite her physical challenges, achieved a bachelor or education degree, and later became a teacher. Anne arrived in the UK with her Geordie born husband Norman. She unexpectedly became a mother, despite being led to believe that pregnancy would be a medical impossibility.
Anne was introduced to wheelchair racing in 2002. 2004 marked the beginning of an Olympic career when Anne became the first wheelchair racer from (Sub-Sahara) Africa to compete at the Paralympics in Athens. In 2006 Anne became a British citizen and joined Team GB. In 2007 she was officially recognised by the Queen at a Buckingham Palace reception for her services to disability sport and her contribution to charity work. Her autobiography In my Dreams I Dance was published in 2010. She was appointed an MBE in 2014 for services to disability sport and charity.
Last year, Anne used her personal experiences of inaccessible disabled toilet facilities on public transport to raise awareness of the challenges that wheelchair users can experience. Anne is the founder and manager of the Olympia-Wafula foundation which helps promote health solutions with emphasis on education and advocacy to enrich people’s lives. Anne Wafula Strike is a warm, friendly and generous person to all whom she meets and she is a personal example of courage, commitment and determination.
What does adventure mean to you?
To me adventure is about being on a journey and about how you approach the life that you have been given. It is about making choices to have more in your life regardless of the challenges that you face. We can create opportunities for ourselves that help us to live a fuller and a more engaging life regardless of the obstacles. After my child was born I began to put on weight and I took up going to the gym to enable me to train and lose weight. I was introduced to the idea that I could take part in a disability sport. I saw woman racing in wheelchairs on television at the commonwealth games in Manchester. I was immediately drawn to the movement, to the speed of the chair and to the possibility. In 2004, I was invited to Athens to take part in the Olympic games. I remember hearing the commentator stating “We are so excited that Africa is embracing wheelchair racing and we have our first African woman competing”. I knew they were talking about me and I was so proud that I didn’t hear when the gun went”. By good luck, I got into the finals.
How is life better because you make time for adventure?
Because I adopt this approach to life, I believe that I can take everything that happens in my life and I can choose to perceive it as an opportunity. I can take the gifts that I was given and I can use them to make my life better each and every day.
What have you learned from the lifestyle that you have created for yourself?
From my experience as a child growing up with a disability, I developed an inner strength. This helped me become a better person. I learned that I have the capacity to pick myself up on the difficult days and decide that tomorrow will be better. This approach is more productive than focusing on what you don’t have in your life. By doing this, I can encourage other people to have this approach as well. When I became a competitor and discovered my ability to race, I knew that it was never going to be about winning the medals. Instead, for me, it was always about how I could use my experiences to create an opportunity for someone else.
How do you keep a positive mindset?
The experiences that I have faced in my life have taught me to feel grateful for all that I have. I like to remind myself that I can choose to define myself by my disability or by my potential. Even on the tough days I remind myself that tomorrow will always be better.
Who inspired you to believe in yourself and fulfill your life’s adventure and your dreams?
My father was a massive influence on my life. As well as shielding me from the cruel world, he told me that I was a very important person in the community. When I completed my primary education my father was very excited. He was proud that I had been accepted into a national school for the very bright children. He always wanted me to do well. He said “study hard and use your brain”. When I went to university he was the proudest dad in the world. This positive message at a critical age has stayed with me all my life.
What advice was given to you that you took to heart with good effect?
To endure the challenges that come your way, to persevere and allow this to help you to become a better person. Do not accept sympathy, look for opportunity.
What advice do you want to share from your experience to help other people to be more adventurous in their lives?
When I speak to other people with disabilities I tell them “you can choose who you become. You can learn from the barriers in your life and allow this to shape a solution focused mindset or you can develop chips on both shoulders and allow disability to define you. In life when there has been adversity it is possible to develop the view that the world owes you something. You need to find a way to embrace it and choose to be the best that you can in this situation. This will change your life!”
I also tell them “You can not deposit fitness in the bank. You can not draw it when you want – you’ve to keep working at it”
“The sweetest feeling is to be defined by your potential, not by your disability” ~ Anne Wafula Strike
I would love to thank the extraordinary Anne Wafula Strike for sharing her wisdom and for inspiring us all to have more, be more and do more. To learn more about Anne, you can find her here.