Amy empowers people with complex disabilities to achieve their running goals

Published On: 11 April 2023Categories: NDIS, News
Amy is the driving force behind Now I Can Run, a non-profit sports club uniquely designed to provide meaningful training and social sessions for people living with disability.

An Australian first, the program specialises in race running by creating a pathway for people who cannot functionally run or have impaired balance.

By providing people with disability the use of a three-wheeled frame, with a saddle and body support, Amy is changing the lives of hundreds of people who were told they’d never walk, let alone run.

“I’ve got a 13-year-old client who is very complex, he has cerebral palsy and non-verbal and his mother just wanted to find a social activity for him so he can be around others his age,” Amy said.

“I told her we’d get her son on a race runner and adapt it to whatever he needed.”

Amy said the boy’s mother was told by medical experts not to expect her son would ever be able to run in a straight line or finish a race.

“Well, we got him on the runner and within a year and a half he’s running in a straight line and he can turn the racerunner. The sport has also given him his own way of communicating with other kids,” she said.

“They go up to him and understand he’s not verbal but still talk to him and ask how he is. These kids wait for him to do the activities because they know he's not as fast as everybody else.

“What my organisation does is give parents hope that their children are capable of doing something they thought was impossible.”

Now I Can Run has its origins on the Gold Coast but is also operating across Australia. Amy also has big plans to make it a global success. In 2022 she was announced Queensland Young Achiever of the Year for her efforts in driving inclusive change through her non-profit.

The 28-year-old, who lives with cerebral palsy, recently met National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Minister Bill Shorten to speak about the positive impact organisations such as hers have on the lives of people with disability.

“My hope is not that people see Now I Can Run as just this amazing organisation. I hope that more people with or without disabilities see this organisation and replicate it in another sport such as cycling, soccer, swimming or football,” she said.

“I don’t care which sport, but I hope people find a way to make it fit so people with disability can participate in activities they want to.”

Such is the success of Amy’s organisation; she’s had children compete at state levels and above, and two clients go as far as the World Championships in Denmark.

In March this year, Amy further cemented her place in the history books by winning gold at the Australian Under 20 and Open Track and Field Championships in the 100m frame runner open category.

After she was crowned Australia’s top female short distance frame runner, Amy said she’d had her toughest training season yet, battling injuries and health complications.

“Nothing in the tank, I put all my fears aside and just run. As hard as I could. All I can say is that persistence pays off because today I was crowned the Australian Open female national champion for frame running,” Amy said.

Earlier this year Carers Queensland approached Amy to be a part of its Inclusive Sports and Recreation project as a member of the organisation’s Beyond the Sidelines Reference Group.

As one of Australia’s largest NDIS partners in the community, Carers Queensland has a key role to play in driving inclusive change in communities.

Its Sport and Recreation project aims to increase the representation and participation of people with disability in sport and recreation, both on and off the playing field, in the lead up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Amy is one of 9 people with disability from throughout the state who will be instrumental in helping the organisation identify best practices in sport and recreation for people with disability and help remove barriers.

“I'm not saying race running is a suitable sport for everyone, but I want there to be opportunities for people with disability to take part in activities they want to, not just the ones that are available or their support worker takes them to,” she said.

“By taking part in sports or recreational activities, people with disability feel connected and less likely to suffer from mental health problems.

“If someone with a disability feels isolated they’re instantly labelled as depressed and that infuriates me.

“They are actually isolated because they’re not accepted by society. They’re depressed because they are not accepted in a mainstream world.”

Amy was supported to access and implement her NDIS through Carers Queensland, and she was one of the first people on the Scheme in Queensland in 2018.

Before the NDIS, Amy lived with her parents and relied heavily on them to help her undertake every task.

She now lives by herself in Pimpama, with NDIS-funded support workers helping her to remain independent. The Scheme has also funded modifications to make her home more accessible.

Amy also uses her supports to access a physiotherapist, speech therapist and an occupational therapist. The NDIS also funds assistive technologies such as her motorised wheelchair.

“Before there was such a thing as the NDIS we didn’t get anything. So if your parents weren’t wealthy you weren’t doing physiotherapy or speech therapy or any of that,” Amy said.

“I often wonder what life would be like if the Scheme had been around when I was younger.

“That’s some of the reason why I set up Now I Can Run, because when I found a sport that people with complex disabilities could do, I was like, if I had found this when I was younger I would definitely be doing it.

“There may be teething problems with the NDIS, but you know without it we wouldn't have things like race runners and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing.

“For example, I’m trying to build the sport over in New Zealand at the moment and there's no funding, no support and so many barriers. Every day is a battle for them (people with disability) over there.”

Now I Can Run also hires people with disability, including a 17-year-old who lives with cerebral palsy. Amy said the organisation put him through his athletic coaching course and he’s now a junior coach.

Not only is Amy a fierce disability advocate, a Level 3 athletics coach and Paralympian, but she’s also taken up a Bachelor of Community Welfare, with a view to becoming an occupational therapist.

Used to overcoming barriers, Amy said she had to fight hard to be accepted into the course because her needs were more complex than others.

“But it’s people like me occupational therapists service, so it makes sense for there to be people with lived experience in such roles,” Amy said.

“I sort of joked to my mates and said if you can’t find a good OT then why not become one.

“Sure I might not be able to give CPR but if there was a roomful of people and there’s someone on the floor and no one knew what to do, I could direct them.

“If more people with disability could be taught self-confidence the world would be a very powerful place.”

Amy also wants society to stop congratulating people with disability for “just living”.

“It must be incredibly hard for people who get their disabilities later on in life but as for me, I don’t know any different,” she said.

“I am just Amy, not Amy with cerebral palsy, and you know it’s not a challenge for me to get out of bed every day. I just do it with whatever technology I have.”

Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.

If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.

You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.