Rio Rundown: Natasha BakerBy Jennifer McGregor -
In Limitless' second Rio Rundown, Jennifer covers the amazing accomplishments of Paralympic Dressage athlete, Natasha Baker.
Jennifer McGregor is a fashion and invisible illness blogger. She is one of approximately 115,000 people in the UK living with Crohn's disease.
For more of Jennifer's writing, head over to her blog!
There aren't many people who can say that they have competed in the Paralympic games and on their first games, won 2 gold medals and set a new record. One person who can say that they have is Natasha Baker, Paralympic Dressage athlete who has Transverse Myelitis; an infection of the spinal cord that affected Natasha’s nerve endings and left her with a weakness and no feeling in her legs.
Natasha contracted Transverse Myelitis at only 14 months old. It is unclear what exactly causes the inflammation to occur but researchers believe it is caused by viral infections or abnormal immune reactions. In Natasha’s case it was caused by a viral infection. It does not discriminate whom it affects and it causes damage to the myelin, which is the covering of nerve cell fibres. Once the damage has been done and the communication between the nerves in the spinal cords has been interrupted, it is permanent.
However, there is a range of severity from back pain to the other end of the scale where there can be the loss of bowel control or even paralysis. Natasha is towards the more severe end of the scale with the loss of feeling and weakness in her legs, meaning that she uses a stick to walk short distances and her electric scooter for longer distances.
Natasha was a patient at Great Ormond Street Hospital throughout her childhood and credits her doctors, treatment and stories of past patients with helping achieve her dream of Paralympic success. Having had such a difficult time with being in and out of hospital throughout her childhood, Natasha was inspired in a situation where it would be very easy to have pitied herself and has said:
“My time in GOSH was a massive inspiration for me because it showed that, although things are thrown in your way, you can overcome them and there are people who want to help you.”
Natasha was recommended to try horse riding by a physiotherapist to help strengthen her muscles and straight away it was apparent she had a great passion for the sport and had found her calling. Inspired by the 2000 Paralympic games, Natasha decided that she wanted to dedicate her career to becoming an equestrian rider at the young age of 10.
Due to Natasha’s Transverse Myelitis, she has learned to train her horses to respond to her voice alongside the movements she makes in her saddle, making her riding achievements even more impressive. Over the coming years, Natasha was selected for the World Class Programme with a wide array of titles to her name, both national and international, including the U21 International Champion.
After years of dedication and countless hours of training, Natasha made her senior debut at the European Championships in 2011. She represented Great Britain as an individual and she won 2 gold medals in the individual and freestyle events. Natasha was then selected for the 2012 London Paralympic Games as a member of the dressage squad. In the individual grade II class, Natasha set a new Paralympic record alongside the gold medal with a score of 82.800%. This was an impressive win of over 5% over her closest competitor, silver medal winner Britta Napel who scored 76.000%.
To complete Natasha’s amazing first Paralympic Games, she also won the gold medal in the individual freestyle grade II two days later. After such an amazing career up to the age of 23, Natasha was one of only 25 Paralympians awarded an MBE by the Queen in the New Year’s Honours 2013 for her services to equestrianism.
Since the 2012 Paralympics, Natasha’s career has gone from strength to strength and has led to her securing a place in this year’s 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Being such an inspiring person and someone who has not let her disability stand in her way, it has led to her now being an icon to young Para athletes and also other patients at Great Ormond Street:
“Disabled children and ill children face so much adversity, but if they are given a chance and get the help from the team at Great Ormond Street, then wonderful things can happen.”
We are sure she will ride to success once again at this year’s Paralympic Games. After all, Natasha is such a determined person and you never know, the next generation’s Natasha Baker might be watching and be as inspired by her performance just as she was by the 2000 Paralympics.
Good Luck Natasha!