Hero Stories is an original Medical Travel Compared blog series. It highlights the extraordinary work done by genuine heroes – people who have dedicated a part of their lives to helping others in need. This month, we caught up with Leanora, who lifts the lid on the Paraclimbing community she has now become an integral part of.
Leanora’s story starts over four years ago, when she received a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which makes joints, skin and organs fragile and prone to injuries and dislocations.
During her time at Oxford University in 2013, Leanora was a talented and passionate rower until her deteriorating health and a back injury meant she could no longer compete.
Leanora struggled to recover and found herself in a period where health issues, joint pains, dizziness and fatigue became part of her day-to-day.
No longer able to compete in the sport she loved, she had to adjust to the change and adapt to life with a disability.
The journey to getting diagnosed
After a period spent searching for a diagnosis, Leanora was at a point where even getting through the working week was a task let alone participating in the sports that once filled her free time. She threw herself into creative writing but missed being able to keep fit.
After two years and countless medical tests and appointments, Leanora finally solved the puzzle and with the help of medical professionals she was diagnosed with a genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or EDS.
The condition causes a person's joints, skin and organs to be fragile and unstable and causes pain and frequent joint dislocations, as well as neurological symptoms due to spinal instability.
After diagnosis, Leanora set herself a goal to find a way to get back into sports. Through her own sheer determination, she built herself up, starting with 5 minutes in the gym and working her way up to being able to do more.
Two years ago, Leanora stumbled upon climbing and decided to give it a try, despite having a fear of heights. After going to a taster session she spent a few months climbing recreationally and found it really useful for strengthening her joints and improving her energy levels but hadn’t planned to compete until she signed up for a para-climbing group in London.
It was here that she was encouraged to enter para-climbing competitions.
Fast-forward a few months to 2018, and Leanora decided to enter the National Paraclimbing Championships - a four-round competition that would see her win rounds 1 and 2 and finish second overall after breaking her wrist just before the final round.
With her sights set on the GB para-climbing team selections, Leanora trained tirelessly through the winter, doing what training she could manage, including one-handed climbing, determined not to let the injury scupper her chances of making the team. After winning her category on the selection day, she found out in March that she had secured her place on the GB para-climbing team.
Although she has daily pain to contend with, Leanora is training hard for the world championships and aiming for gold!
Going from a place where she felt like she had lost part of what made up her identity, to now being more successful in sports than she ever was pre-diagnosis - is an inspiring story. But Leanora also wants to reflect on how far she has come.
“They just get it”
It takes a certain level of physical and emotional resilience to wake up every day in pain, finding everyday tasks difficult. Leanora manages this challenge day-to-day and is now a key figure in the Paraclimbing community.
When Leanora reflects on her fellow paraclimbers - she explains the way in which “they just get it”.
Every person within the community has a different condition, from brain injuries to visual impairments and limb differences.
Regardless of condition, paraclimbing is a level playing field where all are welcome and every achievement is cause for celebration. They spread a message of total confidence, acceptance and a can-do attitude.
Leanora is a firm believer that: “No matter what your condition you have a right to do what you love.”
Access to sport
Along with spreading this positive message, Leanora’s core goal now is to let other people with or without a medical condition know that sport is and should be inclusive of all - and everyone should have the opportunity to participate.
Along with this message, Leanora’s GB dreams demonstrate that with determination and an inclusive environment, there are amazing opportunities and experiences out there for you, whether you have a disability or not.
Joining a larger group of talented athletes, Leanora and her team all have the same belief that everyone should have access to sports no matter who they are - and be able to feel the sense of achievement that comes with being active.
After speaking to Leanora, we asked her what key message she would like to send to anyone else who has recently been diagnosed with a long-term condition that is affecting their day-to-day life.
“If you are struggling with a recent diagnosis or are still on your journey to diagnosis or recovering from an injury remember that there is always a community for you. Don’t let anybody else decide what you can and can’t do”.
Support Leanora’s GB dreams
Besides making the GB para-climbing team - Leanora’s efforts are largely self-funded.
If you’d like to read more of her story or understand how you can support this dream then check out her story here.