Carly Tait: Achieving an impossible dream

What does it mean to you to Be Braver?

For me it is definitely stepping outside of my comfort zone and forcing myself to do things that I would rather shy away from. I am a person with a disability which has a lot of implications day to day – sometimes they’re fairly small, other times quite substantial but nethertheless they all need a varying degree of ‘bravery’ or I wouldn’t get very far in life. I made a decision very early on to push myself as far as I could and to achieve – basically not to let disability hold me back and so I have to accept that I sometimes need to give myself daily pep talks or ignore that inner voice that tells me I can’t do something…even that can take some doing!

Who do you admire for being brave?

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I draw a lot of my bravery and inspiration from my Nana

This is tricky because I didn’t have any disabled role models growing up, I don’t remember seeing any disabled media personalities or even older peers – I’ve only ever known my own situation. When I learnt to drive I could only push myself, the same with school, learning to walk again, uni etc, I’ve had to push myself.

However, that being said I am not just a disabled person, I am a woman, a soon-to-be-mum and very career driven so drawing on these other sides of me I would say that I draw a lot of my bravery and inspiration from my Nana.

She was the one woman in my life that showed me what perseverance and ambition can achieve despite the ups and downs of life.

At retirement age she lost my Grandad who was the love of her life and she lived for another 25 years without him. She built a new life for herself and she went on to achieve great things. Small things initially like leaving the house without him, finding new networks, driving on the motorway, living life and pushing on despite missing him – she always carried on no matter how hard.

Eventually after finding her feet in her new life she flourished, she had a passion for Bowls and used that as a focus to keep going. So much so that she went on to become the President of the English Bowling Association and later the President of the European Bowls Union, no small feat for a woman who had dedicated her life to her family. To some it may sound small-scale but to her (and her family) it was massive.

I’m so proud of the way she coped and excelled with her new life, right through to the end she was the strongest one of us all.

When was the last time you were brave?

It sounds silly but the other night I went shopping to road test prams, basically trying the prams out, practicing putting them in the boot etc and it was a very uncomfortable experience and I felt very overwhelmed. Not least because I went in my wheelchair but also because there are virtually no disabled-friendly products on the market that cater for my disability – I had to think of every little thing, how heavy is it, can I put the brake on properly, would it be difficult to lift up the kerb, how do I dismantle it? It highlighted to me that the concept of a mother with a disability is generally unheard of (even though that is not the case in real life) and we are not at the forefront of design – coupled with people watching or store assistants being initially flustered at this new customer in front of them, it can feel very unnerving and self-doubt does creep in.

What’s the bravest thing that you have done?

Dedicating 5 years of my life to reaching the Paralympics was by far the bravest thing I have done.

I spent my childhood and early adult life practically allergic to sport. I was taught from an early age that I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that, but never maliciously  – my family hadn’t known disability before so they made assumptions about my limitations and I wasn’t really pushed in any sort of demanding way beyond walking.

This was at a time when Cerebral Palsy was a bit of an unknown, I remember my Dad telling me that the medical professionals knew for a long time about my diagnosis but never shared it with them. It was only at a walking assessment one day when a support worker dropped Cerebral Palsy into a conversation that they even knew I what I had and he explained that back then it was still a taboo subject. So before the days of support groups, online communities and Google they could only go off what doctors said, or the lack of.

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When it came to sport it was always ‘Carly struggles so she can’t join in’. This was echoed a lot throughout school and within my peer groups and eventually I just learnt that sport was not for me and I didn’t mind because I found it so difficult to join in anyway that I was glad to see the back of it.

But then London 2012 happened. The Paralympics came to London and the whole country was swept off their feet by disability sport. I was one of them (literally). I forked out almost £1,000 to travel down to London to watch the Closing Ceremony of the Games and left completely in awe of these fantastic athletes, some of whom had Cerebral Palsy and it made me realise that sport could be for me and that if I worked hard enough I just might be able to achieve an ‘impossible’ dream.

The minute I got back to Manchester I looked for a disability club that could help me, I found a wheelchair racing group in Stockport and from this point my whole life became about training, eating, training, sleeping and repeat.

This was not without its battles, as a former smoker and general lover of partying I realised that I had to do more than train, I had to lead a completely different life.

I worked full time for a further three years until I decided to take the plunge to become a full-time athlete, to give myself the last (big!) push I needed to reach that start line in Rio. It was an extremely difficult decision as I thrive on security and giving up my job was like leaping into the unknown.

What lessons has that taught you about yourself?

If I want it bad enough I’ll do it. Fear holds a lot of people back and it has for me in a lot of ways but if I procrastinate then it only gets worse. I wanted so badly to achieve a goal and to prove people wrong (and myself) that I was willing to turn my life around to do it.

Where next for you to Be Braver?

I retired from racing last summer to focus on getting back into my career and leading a ‘normal’ life again. I finished No.5 in the World across my events and I felt that from where I started this was good enough for me to finish on. I also became a European Silver Medallist in the process so I was very proud of my achievements. Since then I’ve gone back to my old job in Marketing and I’m now expecting my first baby which opens up a huge amount of opportunities to be brave – I am by no means confident that I know what I’m doing, I’m scared of how I’ll physically cope, of how I’ll have to work out different ways of doing things, but I have a very supportive partner and I know that we’ll find it tough (like all new parents!) but I’ll work it out day-to-day.

I find with a lot of things that if I think too much of the bigger picture I can let it overwhelm me and so I have to break every goal into tasks, which leads to steps, if I follow these then it becomes a lot more doable.

Racing was the same, I broke it down into steps - find a chair, push it on to the track, build up fitness, start competing, find sponsors…eventually everything came together full circle.

What difference do you think being braver could make?

Being braver for me is the difference between doing something and not doing something, missing out or not experiencing new things or meeting new people. It’s easy to talk yourself out of doing things for fear of the unknown.

How would you like to inspire women to Be Braver?

I can be hard on myself and insecure, it got me in a lot of trouble early on in my racing career because I would talk myself out of races, sometimes give up before I reached the finish line or wreck my ability to focus so much that I would fail at every race – my technique and speed would go out of the window! Something had to be done because it was seriously hindering my chances and so I sought the help of a motivational coach to help me undo the years of internal bashing I would subject myself to.

He made me realise that we are our own worst enemy – he would tell me to ignore the self-doubt and the inner voice that said ‘I can’t’. It never went away completely but over time he made me realise that all I could do was ignore it and carry on step-by-step, win the small steps first and then build up to the bigger picture.

Over time the ‘I can’t’ became a lot quieter and I started to see small results which reinforced the good side of what I was achieving at that time. If I’d managed a session where I didn’t slip off the push rims I would take it as a win, rather than being upset that I didn’t beat the boys.

I think women in particular are often guilty of letting the inner voice win, we would never talk to our friends like we talk to ourselves and that is my guiding voice.

Talk to yourself like you would your best friend when you think you’re rubbish at something, or you don’t deserve that pay-rise or that you can’t run 5k..whatever it is. Be your own best friend because you’ll quickly see results.

Do you have a Mantra you would like to share?

I started seeing my partner when I was in my first year of racing – he was a teacher at the time and gave his classes a positive quote every week to instil a positive mindset – he quickly realised I was the most pessimistic person alive as well as being a nervous wreck at races and he printed out this quote for me to keep in my kit bag which read:

‘Everything you can imagine is real’ (Picasso)

All I did for 5 years was imagine myself on that start line and I never let that goal out of my sight.