Amy is one of life’s survivors. She doesn’t like talking about herself, much preferring to let her sport or friends do that for her. This matter of fact approach to life, combined with a determination to get on with it, has won her many accolades and a place on the wheelchair rugby team.
This is not a position to be taken lightly, as each player has to fight for their place for each match. Yet despite the strong competition, the team enjoys even stronger friendships.
Amy’s life has always been ruled by sport. Growing up, football was her first love. She was always out playing football, with the brilliant Noel King as her club manger through her teens. Amy also played other sports, winning medals and trophies in volleyball, badminton, swimming, basketball as well as football.
Amy’s life changed when she was in her late teens. There was nothing instantly obvious but she found physical exercise increasingly difficult. She began falling a lot, and a nasty inward turn started to happen in her right foot. Simple things like doing household chores, dressing, and other daily tasks became hard. She walked with a terrible limp – ‘I was slagged about how I walked but I ignored it and thought the foot would heal itself.’
Time did not heal her, and in 2011 she had a biopsy. For the next few months, Amy and her family waited to for her diagnosis. This was a really hard and tough time for them, as motor neuron disease was one illness that was mentioned. Thankfully this was not the case.
In June 2011 the doctors confirmed Amy had muscular dystrophy disease which is a progressive and debilitating muscle wasting disease. Scared, worried and fear of the unknown, Amy nevertheless carried on with a strong will to fight.
Amy had started using a wheelchair in 2011 and hated every second of it. ‘I used to put the chair down the side of the house because i didn’t want to see it, or be in it. I didn’t want to give in.’
As her condition became worse, Amy came to terms with her wheelchair, again opting to make the most of her new situation. She attended a Paralympic open day in UCD
Amy tried out for Wheelchair Rugby (WCR) but was refused. ‘I was told I was too strong for the sport, but in time I would be eligible as the disease I have is a wasting of the muscles.’ Instead Amy played table tennis for a few months. At that stage, with her progressive , aggressive wasting of her muscles, she was accepted on the rugby squad.
‘I loved it from the get go,’ says Amy and three years later she is still playing and loving the sport.
Heading into Christmas, training has eased up, but post Christmas it will be back in full swing. ‘We train two days a week for a couple of hours, then some weeks we do four days (full days). It is very demanding but I absolutely love it.’
WCR is a mixed team sport. Recently the Irish WCR team went to Finland, and came 6th in the competition. The results of this meant that Ireland climbed to 11th in the world rankings, from a previous place of 23rd, and is now 6th in Europe.
‘Back in April the team was 23rd place, but look now at the huge climb – it has been amazing,’ says Amy. There are now four WCR clubs throughout Ireland located in Ulster, Munster, Laois and Dublin.
Amy had another issue to fix, and that was her smoking. She had been smoking since a young age despite her keen love of sports. She managed to stop at 22 years of age, but then a chance encounter led her back smoking up to her 30s. She moved from rollies for a mixture of cost and taste, however with the wasting disease, it meant Amy hadn’t got the dexterity to roll smokes anymore.
‘I gave up smoking on June 23rd 2014 at 6pm. The reason I know the exact timing is because it was a huge thing for me to do, and I haven’t looked back”
Amy is fit and trains hard. She doesn’t drink. She has regular tests to check her lungs and heart. ‘Ten weeks after giving up smoking and switching to vaping, my tests showed my lungs were fully cleared.’
Her team mates tease her for vaping but she takes it on the chin. ‘It is cheaper, much healthier and I feel so much better,’ says Amy. ‘And nobody is allowed to smoke in my brand new car either.’