Hannah MacDougall is an inspiring young athlete who has not only achieved bronze medals in the 2004 Athens Paralympics, but she is now aiming for the 2012 Paralympics in cycling. Born with a congenital limb deficiency, Hannah had a choice to make when she was growing up – and she chose to make the best out of her life, no matter the challenges she was up against.
Today, Hannah talks about the challenges she faced growing up and shares her tips for encourage children today to be happy and healthy.
Q – Were there any issues that you faced and overcame as child?
When I was younger, I was definitely self-conscious of having one leg when I wore shorts or dresses. I was extremely aware of people staring at me on the street, on the train, or at the pool. My mentor, an amputee and Paralympian by the name of Donnie Elgin, gave me some advice, “Han, people are curious about things that are different. If you help educate them about having one leg, you are helping to remove the mystery and show that you are a person – just like them.”
Q – What tips can you give children who might be going through a difficult time in their life?
My issue was rather unique, 1 in every 100,000 children are born with a congenital limb deficiency. However, I am a firm believer in surrounding yourself by positive and supportive people. As a result, if you are facing any type of issue, you will always be able to have someone to talk to about it and help provide solutions.
Q – What sports did you do growing up?
I was initially involved in Little Athletics and mainly competed in the track events. However, after being diagnosed with stress fractures due to running, I was naturally funnelled into swimming!
Q – Did you always excel at all your sports?
I believe I have both natural talent and have also worked hard to be successful in my chosen sports. Growing up, I competed against people with two legs. This was interesting as I am a below knee amputee and it didn‟t always create the most even playing field. However, the competition provided by competing against able-bodied people has translated extremely positively into Paralympic sport and helped me to become a better athlete.
Q – You have been involved in a number of sports, what is your favourite and why?
I was involved in the sport of swimming for thirteen years and have recently switched to cycling. As such, I would say that cycling is definitely my favourite sport as the scenery is always changing, I get to go fast down hills, and I can hear people cheering for me when I race.
Q – How old were you when you knew you wanted to train for the Paralympics?
I was nine years old when I was having a prosthetic leg made and saw a picture with an amputee athlete who had three gold medals around his neck. Underneath the picture it had the caption „Paralympian‟. I turned around to mum and said that this was what I wanted to do, I wanted to become a Paralympian.
Q – Did you ever doubt that you could make it as a Paralympian?
Making it into the Paralympic Team was, in my mind, an event that was always going to happen. I had set my goal, and with dedication and persistence, I was able to achieve it.
Q – What did you do to overcome the doubt?
Naturally there are times when we do not believe in ourselves and our ability to achieve our goals. While I have never doubted that I would become a Paralympian, there have been moments when I have doubted my ability to perform up to a certain standard. It is in moments like these that the support from people around you, identification of your strengths, and an ability to keep in the moment, all play a vital role in overcoming self-doubt.
Q -How do you train for the Paralympics?
When training for swimming, my weekly schedule included 8 swim sessions, 3 gym sessions, core work, physio and massage.
Now that I am cycling, I have fewer sessions but they are generally longer. I also now race almost every weekend. Overall, I am training between 20-30hrs per week.
Q – Is the food you eat important to you and why?
Food is absolutely critical, both in terms of being an athlete, as well as for overall health and wellbeing. The correct nutrition helps you perform at your peak, recovery from a training session, and live life to the fullest.
Q – How is being healthy and happy important to you?
Being healthy and making the right food choices results in feeling happy. I enjoy having a positive attitude and feel great when I know I am putting the right fuel into my body.
Q – How do you think your health/happiness values can make a difference to the younger generation?
Growing up, I found that having role models in my life made a difference to the attitudes and choices I made. When you have an individual, who lives and breathes health and happiness values, and is excited to share their experiences, a difference can be made with the younger generation.
Q – Why do you want to play an active role in inspiring children to be healthier and happier?
There is no doubt that the children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. If I can play a role, however small that may be, in helping to inspire children to be healthy and happy, I believe we will all be creating a better future.
Q – What are the main issues you see kids are facing today?
There are many issues kids face today. When examining health and happiness, the main issues confronting our younger generation include diet, exercise, and sedentary lifestyles.
Q – What would you do to make a difference and help solve these issues?
I think that education, and being involved in the educational tours supported by ProPortion Foods, is definitely a step in the right direction.
Q – What tips can you give parents who would like to encourage their children be happier and healthier?
- Set a good example; by eating healthily and exercising regularly, this can help to encourage your children into adopting the same patterns.
- Always have fresh fruit and vegies on hand for kids to snack on.
- Try to minimise, or avoid, soft-drinks.
- By getting the kids to help in the kitchen, not only will you be educating them as to how to prepare fresh, healthy and tasty foods, you are also teaching them invaluable life skills.
Q – What is your message to kids today?
- Set goals in all areas of life
- Life is all about attitude and choice
- Lead a happy and healthy life
Hannah’s story, resilience and positive outlook on life is inspiring and she shares some great messages; if you would like to enjoy a happy and healthy life and attitude: set yourself clear goals, eat and live healthy, and surround yourself with positive and supportive people and you will see the benefits.
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