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Roberto’s story

In this moving piece Roberto writes about the misconceptions and barriers he faces when getting active as a Disabled person.

At Get Yourself Active, we pride ourselves on sharing the experiences, thoughts and opinions of our wide and diverse community. We love sharing your stories about getting active and what this means to you.

This week, we wanted to share a story from Roberto Sardelli, who is 54 and was born in Zambia to Italian parents and grew up in Zimbabwe. Roberto is part of Get Yourself Active’s sounding board group, who meet to share personal experiences and steer the Get Yourself Active programme.

Roberto has a progressive complex neurological condition and became a double amputee in 2018. Due to his condition, he will never be able to walk again. That doesn’t stop him from being active. He enjoys swimming and hand cycling and wheelchair arm exercises. He believes in living each day to the fullest as though it is his last.

He has written a moving piece for us, about the misconceptions and barriers faces get active as a Disabled person.

The greatest challenge for me is overcoming the discrimination I face when getting active on a daily basis. I was not born in Britain, and so I often encounter xenophobia alongside the lack of understanding towards my impairment as a double amputee.

Many people I meet are under the impression that one gets a prosthetic leg for each limb amputated. However, this is just not the case, it depends on whether one has heart and breathing underlying conditions, neurological conditions, spinal and hip damage and diabetes.

These misconceptions are a huge barrier to me getting active. I get asked how can you cycle with no legs? How can you swim with no legs?

Always being asked these questions has a real negative effect on oneself. I have always persevered by keeping myself active despite these challenges.

The financial costs of the equipment cause a lot of onlookers and even professionals to question me. For instance, I love handcycling, but there have been occasions where someone sees me using the equipment, they immediately jump to the conclusion that I am committing some sort of benefit fraud. That as a Disabled person I do not deserve to get active in a way that suits me.

As a non-British born citizen, with Indefinite Leave to Remain, I am faced with racism, accusations that I am “scrounging” off the social welfare system especially when it comes to not having legs. I have been accused of being a con artist wanting to have my legs taken off to defraud the system.

There is a misconception that when someone becomes Disabled, living life to the fullest comes to an end. This is not the case, since my condition deteriorated in 2013, I made a promise to myself ‘never to give up’, and to be an inspiration to others if I can.

I call my promise PGP, wearing bright coloured clothing, not allowing my condition to define who I am.

P – Patience, learning new ways to do things, accepting your situation has changed,

G – Gratitude, grateful for what one has, looking at the positive things in life

P – Perseverance and a determination never to give up

I would love that we as a group could get this message out.

I know that one can still live life to the fullest as a Disabled person. I hope that this mantra could mean there might be fewer barriers and challenges, less discrimination within communities and sport. We need more visibility too. Talk seminars, radio talk shows and TV ads would also help to get the message out that Disabled people are here, and we deserve to get active because we love it too.

Now, we want to hear from you. Do barriers prevent you from getting active in a way that suits you? Share your thoughts at Right to Participate.