“I try to tell myself and others that no matter what obstacles are placed in front of you, you are beautiful, powerful and capable of achieving so much more than you could imagine”
Against all the odds, Baltinglass woman Rachel Kenny will compete for Ireland at the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships in Nottingham next week.
The 21-year-old took up the sport of kayaking four years ago and started freestyle kayaking last year and she made the Irish team for the championships along with her two Balto Kayak Club colleagues, Cody Fagan, also from Baltinglass, and Collum Doyle, from Ballymore Eustace, who is a reserve on the Irish Junior team.
But there’s more to Rachel’s story than just kayaking. Much more. Rachel had scoliosis surgery when she was 14 years of age where titanium rods were inserted into her back to stop her spine curving further.
As Rachel will explain a little further on, this was life changing. Gone were those sports many take for granted: Gaelic games, horse riding, and so on.
But Rachel Kenny is a warrior, or as she calls herself, a ‘scoliosis warrior’ because she is determined to live her life to the very fullest as far as her body will permit.
This week, from Nottingham, Rachel has penned this piece for the Wicklow People. June 26 is National Scoliosis Awareness Day and the Baltinglass woman wants to raise awareness of that, she wants to thank people who fundraise and help out, she wants to tell people who might be in her situation not to be afraid to ask for help, and she wants to tell the story of an athlete who is “bent, but not broken” and who will represent her country with pride next Monday in the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships.
Now that’s a story that deserves to be told.
Bent, but not broken
Most people will not know this about me, until they stand behind me, that is. I suffer from pain most days due to scoliosis. I call myself a scoliosis warrior because despite my disability I aim to live my life in full, as far as my body will let me.
My name is Rachel, and I am a proud, hardworking and athletic woman despite all the challenges that have been placed as obstacles in my way. When I was 14 years old, I underwent a long corrective surgery to straighten my spine (in so far as possible) and stop it from bending further in the future.
This was a life changing surgery in many ways for me. There were sports activities that I had to leave behind, like GAA football and horse riding.
A few years after my surgery, I began to explore the world of kayaking with my local club, Balto Kayak Club. At the beginning of my kayaking journey, I didn’t think that my body would be able to manoeuvre in the ways it needed to progress in the sport. I spent a long time debating whether I should even start because of this but eventually I took the leap of faith and tried it for myself to find out.
Don’t get me wrong, I experience pain on a daily basis and there are still many obstacles along the way in my paddling journey but for the most part I have found a balance between pushing myself to progress and allowing my body to tell me when I should take a break.
I am writing this article from the ICF Development Camp for C1 woman and juniors in Nottingham, England ahead of the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships. I am joined by the other athletes representing Ireland throughout four categories K1, C1, OC1 and squirt boating. I am excited and anxious in equal measure but also immensely thankful to be here.
I am grateful for all the progress I have made even just in the last few months and thankful for the strength I have found within myself to fight through the pain but also the acknowledgment of when it is time to give my body a break.
It has been very empowering to have the support of the paddling community in various capacities along the way. I am extremely thankful for the strength I found within myself and my body to take that leap of faith in starting freestyle and finding something that I love.
Like many of us can relate to, I found it a little awkward as I was unsure of where or how I fit in. Despite everything that I face with scoliosis and my heart condition I don’t see myself as disabled, but I do have additional needs when it comes to managing pain and risk assessing the situation I find myself in on a river.
Other times I have found that my attendance makes others somewhat uncomfortable because they feel like I should be doing something less intense that would not have such an impact on my body. Some may see me as a liability or a person that just needs to be taken care of.
However, I have found a community of paddlers that allow me to excel in the sport I love while keeping an eye out for my safety. They are not afraid to ask if I think I should be doing what I'm doing if things don’t go to plan but when I say yes that I want to be there they allow me the space to do that.
I am still very much learning how to adapt to not only the tricks for freestyle but also living with scoliosis in general. It is an ongoing experience that will always make me different to others, but that is never a bad thing.
I try to tell myself and others that no matter what obstacles are placed in front of you, you are beautiful, powerful and capable of achieving so much more than you could imagine.
On National Scoliosis Awareness Day on June 26, I would like to take the opportunity to encourage others to pursue their dreams and to take that leap of faith into the unknown.
It might not always be easy, in fact sometimes it can be quite tough. Sometime support from others might be needed to assist in achieving it but don’t be afraid to ask for that help.
I would also like to say thank you to everyone who fundraises for the various charity organisations that help support people like me starting off their journeys.
This week I look forward to representing my country on June 27, and no matter what the outcome, I am just proud to be here and making it this far.