Disability activist inspires change

ISABELLA NEAL

“You can’t, you won’t, you will never…”

These are words that Amy Tobin has heard ever since she was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy at a mere five days old before suffering a secondary brain hemorrhage.

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Amy, nine years after her diagnosis. Photo: Supplied

Now, at 24, Amy is working to prove those people wrong by competing in Hawaii’s upcoming 42K marathon. She aims to show that individuals with disabilities can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

The world’s 4th largest marathon event takes place on December 9. Being the first person to compete with such acute disability, Amy hopes to encourage others to overcome their differences and bullying, as she understands their struggles.

Amy doesn’t see herself as a “competitor”, rather as someone endorsing change.

“Look, I’m not going over there to compete, I’m going over there for the sense of accomplishment. I just have to keep pushing to make my dream a reality for it to follow through to others,” she said.

As an ambassador for I Can, I Will Australia, a youth suicide prevention charity, Amy also hopes to raise funds for the organisation.

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Amy, with her brother Mark, hopes to combat the discrimination she has faced. Photo: Supplied

“It’ll show people, no matter how big the challenge is, if you want to make it work, you can and you will. Life is hard enough without all the extra physical and emotional challenges. I’m doing this because I understand the struggle and the battle of acceptance,” she said.

There are a number of misconceptions people with disabilities face, one in particular being the fact that non-disabled people assume their capabilities and drive.

Amy has fighting for the “battle of acceptance” her entire life, beginning as a student at Miami State High.

“Being the first, solely physically impaired student, there was a lot of fighting for an equal chance, and a lot of self-advocating to make that happen. Being different, you’re always gonna have people who have a different opinion, and it’s down to a lack of education,” she said.

Now studying a Bachelor of Social Work at University, she is focusing on a new career change in hopes to work more closely with children with disabilities.

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Amy’s first skydiving experience. Photo: Supplied

But first, the marathon.

So much work goes into preparing for such an event. Gaining sponsors is also a high priority for the marathon, something which Amy began in August 2017 after competing in the 5K Bridge to Brisbane.

The Burleigh local receives sponsorship from various local communities, including her two gyms, Movement Innovation and EMF, as well as the team from Under Armor and the Pet Wellness Centre.

“Early intervention for kids is key, so if I had the chance to have the technology they have around now, I often wonder what life would be like. But for me, being able to provide that change is awesome”, she said.

Receiving coaching, as well as attending regular physio sessions and many, many hours of training a week, is gruelling at times. In mid 2017, Amy landed in hospital as her health slowly deteriorated.

Undergoing two major reconstruction and calf-lengthening surgeries, she went through long months of painstaking rehabilitation.

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With the Mollii Suit Amy now hopes to compete in the marathon. Photo: Supplied

People with disabilities, no matter the severity, are more likely to feel pain and sensitivity than the average person. So, imagine how Amy must feel as she attempts to tackle Diamond Head Hill, a 232m (762ft) incline.

Technology plays a role in overcoming these challenges. Nathan Brischetto of Synergistix Allied Health assisted Amy test a Mollii Suit, a new initiative designed to help people with motor disabilities.

“She will go far in life with the mentality that nothing will stop her from achieving what she sets out to,” Brischetto said.

“She won’t let Cerebral Palsy define her. Amy is where she is today, due to her persistence and determination. I believe this (her competing) will encourage other individuals to achieve anything.”

The Mollii suit is designed to lower muscle spasticity, pain, improve posture, function, mobility and sleeping patterns. Amy’s mobility has improved significantly as a result, and her pain and muscle spasticity has decreased. Her strength has increased extensively, which allow her to compete using a custom-built racing wheelchair.

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Amy uses a custom-built wheelchair to train for the event. Photo: Supplied

Jakob Garjadhar, who also works with Synergistix Allied Health and is a close friend of Amy’s, believes her dedication will lead to a positive change.

“(What she is doing) will impact everyone positively, in all walks of life. When Amy says ‘prove them wrong’, she wants to endorse that society needs to change their way of thinking, and that anything is possible in life”, he said.

“Amy has created many legacies and will continue to do so. She will continue to fight for change and will be successful in all her undertakings.”

A former carer and now close friend, Morgan Coleman, described Amy’s journey as one of “determination, strength and happiness”.

“I think it’s awesome. Despite the extras challenges along the road, she isn’t letting it stop her from achieving her dream”, she said.

“Just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t mean they are any less capable of achieving their goals. They may have to travel a slightly different path, but will ultimately achieve them in the end.”

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Months of rehab and physio have finally paid off for Amy. Photo: Supplied

Katrina Neal has known Amy for 11 years, describing her as the epitome of hard work, encouragement and dedication.

“Reaching this level of competition is proof that nothing is impossible. Amy has committed herself 100 per cent to training as hard as she can to compete in this event. I am proud of her,” she said.

Next, Amy aims to complete her University degree, travel and find work mentoring young people. And beyond that?

“Who knows? I won’t say climb Mt. Everest, because that’s too ambitious, but maybe Mt. Kosciusko or something crazy like that,” Amy joked.

 

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