“The Real Superheroes”

It’s been almost a year since we ran our #Islabikeforlife competition to which we had a lot of entries. The four finalists were all amazing for different reasons. We had comedy entries, inspirational stories, tales of epic adventures and one that really touched us all at Islabikes HQ. The story of Zahina, who had gained a love of cycling against all the odds. Below we speak to Zahina’s father, Imran:

We first got in touch after you decided to enter our Islabike for life contest.  Can you explain why you chose to enter Zahina (other than the prize!)?

We originally thought of entering our 6-year-old son into the contest as he is more able on his bike, but we chose to put forward Zahina because we felt it was a great opportunity to highlight the incredible things disabled children achieve every day of their lives. They often have to overcome incomprehensible obstacles just to do a simple activity that we take for granted. Depending upon their condition, they may have to work so hard just to walk or sit up unsupported or communicate or even eat independently.  Or to ride a bike! And these things, which come effortlessly to other children, are being achieved every day by disabled children everywhere, with little recognition or celebration in the wider world. So we put Zahina forward to raise awareness of how much disabled children achieve. Zahina learnt to ride a pedal bike (no stabilisers) at 3.5 years old and shortly after learning cycled 6 miles on her own along a disused railway track. Before she was 4 we went on a cycling holiday in the Lake District, where she received so many compliments from other people about how well she could cycle for her age, without any of them knowing she had disabilities. Whilst there are many 3-4 year olds whose cycling skills are way beyond Zahina’s, we as a family know how much she has to overcome each time she gets on her bike and for this we are immensely proud. Only the families who live alongside these amazing children, who have seen how much they have had to struggle everyday, can really appreciate that they are the real superheroes. We felt it was important to get the message out there that children like Zahina, who barely get noticed, are, in fact, truly inspirational.

 

It sounds like Zahina has had a tough start to life.  What has she had to overcome so far?

When Zahina was 3 months old she fell critically ill with a rare form of meningitis. She was taken to A&E and, once there, rushed into Resus where she suffered multiple seizures and sepsis. We almost lost her but the medical professionals were amazing and saved her life. She was intubated and taken to intensive care. The first indication of her fighting spirit was when she was moved from intensive care to high dependency within 3 days. The doctors were amazed and said a baby that ill would normally stay in intensive care for 2 weeks. She then spent the next 2 weeks in hospital recovering. She made great progress but sadly was left with life changing conditions – epilepsy, profound deafness in one ear, visual impairment and a brain injury so severe that the neurologist said she would never be able to walk. She was later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy too. However, she did not stop fighting. The next 3 years were a whirlwind of hospital appointment after hospital appointment, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy, audiology tests, eye tests, music therapy, massage therapy, play therapy etc . She was not allowed a moment’s rest, but she soldiered on with courage. Her paediatrician said “She is an amazing little girl. She has true grit.” On top of all that, she suffered the most horrendous skin condition imaginable and was in total agony for 2 years.  But thanks to all the fantastic support she had from the NHS and several wonderful charities, and of course due to her own sheer determination, at 15 months old she defied all odds and started to walk!! Much to her delight! She has suffered more in her short 4 years than I have in my lifetime but she has laughed and smiled through it all.

What got her into cycling and how did she get there?  You sent a video of her at Conductive Education Bristol, were classes a help for her to get on a bike?

Zahina got herself into cycling at 3 years old before we even thought she was ready. She had been riding her brother’s old balance bike around whilst her brother (2 years older than her) had been riding his pedal bike to school. She just wants to be like her big brother and will not accept why she can’t do whatever he can do.  So, one day, at our local adventure playground, she ditched her balance bike and got on one of playground’s pedal bikes that they kindly lend out. We tried to help her but she said ”No thanks, I can do it all by myself” and to our amazement she could!! We then decided to get her a good quality second hand Islabike to give her the best possible chance to cycle properly with its lightweight frame, and she’s been cycling ever since.

She has been attending weekly Conductive Education classes (a charity helping children with cerebral palsy) since she was 1 years old and it has been life changing for her. It is certainly true that without their support she would not have walked at 15 months and would definitely not be riding a bike now! She first took 10 steps across a room in one of their sessions. It’s funny to think that since a baby in conductive education classes she has been lying on her back pretending to ride a bike to encourage movement in her legs, and now she is riding bikes for real!

You mentioned she now rides with a cycling club, what does she do there?

Since September she has been attending Bristol Cycling Development Squad’s (BCDS) Go-Ride sessions. The coaches have been absolutely fantastic and she has loved every minute. They are very understanding and supportive of her additional needs and have tailored their coaching to take these into consideration. They have even managed to fit in some 1:1 tuition with her, which has progressed her skills at an astonishing rate. She is now able to weave in and out of strategically placed cones. We are so grateful for all they have done for her. Through their encouragement and belief in her, they have made her challenge herself to achieve more than we, as parents, thought possible.  And their passion has really nurtured her love of cycling. Thanks BCDS and all the amazing charities that have helped Zahina on her journey.

 

 

 

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