BOBBING on a surfboard and swinging her legs against the waves, Katie Douglas from Newtonabbey, north Belfast, burst into tears.
The first time on a surfboard would no doubt be an exciting experience for any teenager. For Katie, it was life-changing.
Having cerebral palsy and being unable to walk unaided, she had never imagined riding the waves would be possible – yet one incredible organisation gave her that gift.
“I just felt so free in the water. Unlike on the ground, I was able to move my legs unsupported due to the water making them so light. It was truly, truly amazing,” Katie, now 20, says.
For a long while, even the pleasure of a day at the beach was unavailable to the college student as she couldn’t use her heavy wheelchair on the sand.
“When I was very little, my mum could take me down to the beach, as she could carry me. But the bigger I got, the harder it became for her. I also hated people staring.
“So, by the time I was 11 or 12, my wee cousins would be down on the sand playing and I’d just be up on the tarmac in my chair.”
Katie’s condition means she is unable to walk without a frame or a wheelchair.
While she can usually meet her own basic needs such as feeding and personal care, she sometimes needs help from her mum.
But Katie no longer had to watch on from the sidelines at the beach when, in 2016, she was introduced to the National Lottery-funded Mae Murray Foundation through a school friend.
The project was set up in the name of the late Mae Murray, who did everything she could to ensure her granddaughter, who has cerebral palsy, never missed out on life experiences.
Established by Mae’s daughter, the organisation aims to create an inclusive society where people of all ages and abilities can take part in activities that enrich their quality of life.
Attending a residential camp with the foundation in summer 2016, Katie found herself at the beach for the first time in a long time.
“They had these special wheelchairs that meant I could finally go on the sand. When they pulled out a sit-down surfboard, I couldn’t believe I’d be able to do that. But, with an instructor in the water helping me, I did it.
“I was able to go into the water and surf. I was so surprised. My family stood on the shore watching and they all cried. Feeling the water against my skin, I cried too. I didn’t want it to end.”
Katie now surfs every summer with the Mae Murray Foundation.
She has also tried things like cycling, where she sits on a specialist bike with a volunteer pedalling.
She says: “Mae Murray has taught me that I can do anything. It’s just about the right support.”
The National Lottery is proud to sponsor The Sun Who Cares Wins Awards 2022, which shines a spotlight on amazing health and wellbeing projects.
By playing The National Lottery, you’re helping raise over £30million a week to support good causes like the Mae Murray Foundation, which was just one of many health and wellbeing projects that received funding last year.
Kyleigh Lough, from the Mae Murray Foundation, said: “Thanks to National Lottery funding we have enabled over 100 people of all ages and abilities to enjoy surfing, many for the first time.
“Many families have told us that it is the first time they have been able to take part in an activity together where the whole family is challenged and having fun.”
The regular exercise offered by the Mae Murray Foundation has even helped strengthen Katie’s muscles.
She said: “My arms are stronger now from paddling which makes pushing my wheelchair easier.
“About a year or so after I started surfing, my core strength became so good that I was moved to a normal surfboard. I can lie on there by myself and even paddle myself out into the water.
“Thanks to Mae Murray I’ve done things I never thought I could. It’s even loaned me their chairs that can go on sand so I can do simple things like have a walk with my family on the beach. Life is so much better now.
“Thank you to everyone at the Mae Murray Foundation, its volunteers and everyone who plays The National Lottery. If it wasn’t for you then I couldn’t have these amazing experiences.”
To find out how your numbers make amazing happen, visit national-lottery.co.uk/life-changing.
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