James Was Told He May Not Be Able To Walk and is now a 2-Time Paralympic Athlete

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James Roberts is an online training and nutrition coach by trade, but was an elite Paralympic athlete for just over a decade. We caught up with him to understand how he came to feel like an #EmpoweredAmputee 

How did your journey as an amputee begin? 

I was born with a congenital disability called femoral dysplasia and a floating hip of the left leg as well as scoliosis of the spine. I grew up on a NATO base in S.H.A.P.E (Casteau), Belgium to military parents. My mother is from the UK, and my father from the States. I have grown up over the last 32 years adapting to my impairment, my environment, and taking it as no obstacle. 

Describe your first memory of your first prosthetic leg? 

My first prosthetic leg was a socket and a fixed pole. It was very basic due to the length of my impaired leg compared to my sound leg. I remember it was constantly breaking and malfunctioning. I probably did miss quite a lot of school growing up to get it repaired by the prosthetist. My mother told me a great story of when the school rang her at her workplace and a colleague answered it; "The school said James has broken his leg again". The colleague asked my mom if I had brittle bone disease as I was breaking my leg so often but she told him, "James doesn't have brittle bones but has a prosthetic leg". Still makes me laugh to this day 20 or so years on.

What was the hardest moment for you as an amputee and how did you overcome that? 

Learning how to walk was very difficult as my disability (femoral displacia) made my left leg move in whichever way it would like, a bit like one of those blow-up stick men you sometimes see outside a car dealership in the USA. The leg didn't become somewhat fixed until I started using a prosthetic limb.

It was also hard seeing my school friends playing outside on equipment I couldn't use yet, like monkey bars and running up the mental slides as you do as a child. I overcame these obstacles by figuring about a solution that enabled to do be able to do it.

In all reality, I shouldn't be able to walk due to the number of bones that I am missing in that leg, however, my parents never told me what the doctors had said to them when I was a young child. So growing up I was no different to any other able-bodied child albeit the physical differences. Yes, it probably did take me longer to learn to walk and with the aid of a walker, but I got there in the end.

I remember specifically as a teenager, where I would hide my disability by wearing long trousers in the warmer months of the year instead of shorts. But it hit me one day that the only person I was impacting was myself.

What is one thing you are most proud of?  

I would say these are both equal, getting my degrees (BSc in Sports Science and Postgrad in Sociology of Sport and Exercise) and representing Great Britain at 2 Paralympics (Beijing 2008 in rowing and London 2012 in Sitting Volleyball).

What makes you feel like an #EmpoweredAmputee? 

I'm an online training and nutrition coach by trade, but I was an elite Paralympic athlete for just over a decade. I've been lucky enough over those years to have represented Great Britain at countless World Championships and 2 Paralympics Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) to just name a few. Having a disability myself I completely understand the adversity one can face on a day-to-day basis. Also, I wanted to bridge that gap between mainstream fitness and disability, as there is not a lot of fitness topics about for people with disability to widen their knowledge and/or to just improve their quality of living. I don’t see myself as some fitness guru. I’m a coach, I’ve learned more by listening to and working with people than working against them. I feel that’s the biggest reason those I’ve coached have had so much success, not just with their physique but with their mindset. Together we’ve worked it out, there’s been some ups and downs, but we’ve always got there.

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