The Rabbit Society is always looking for individuals who have overcome obstacles and pushed boundaries. That’s why when we were introduced to Ella by Mathew French at WheelPower, we wanted nothing more than to throw some questions her way!
It’s a real pleasure and privilege to be working with you – could we perhaps start with your own personal story – when did use of a wheelchair first become part of your life?
My Name is Ella Beaumont and I am 25 years old. 5 days before I was born, I stopped kicking in my mum’s womb. When I was born it was discovered that I had a Spinal Cord injury just before birth leaving me paralysed from the legions T1-T4. This means that I can’t feel or move anything from my chest downwards and have used a wheelchair since the tiny age of 18 months. There was no rhyme or reason for this, and it was no one’s fault. I was very lucky to have grown up with a very supportive family who never treated me any differently. It was because of this I have a very determined attitude and try not to let anything stop me.
How did you come to choose your chosen wheelchair sport and what – or who –was it that inspired you to do that rather than something else?
I was lucky enough to live near Stoke Mandeville and to be presented with a lot of opportunities to try out a variety of Wheelchair sports when I was younger. During the WheelPower National Junior Games at Stoke Mandeville Stadium I was able to try out Wheelchair Basketball, and absolutely loved it! So, I decided to join my local wheelchair basketball club and take up the sport as a hobby.
What has been your greatest challenge in pursuing your sport and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge for anyone to overcome when starting disability sport is sourcing funding to enable you to buy the specialist equipment needed to play the sport. Funding can be tricky to track down, but I was lucky enough to have been lent a wheelchair to borrow before I was able to buy my own bespoke wheelchair with the support of a local charity.
What has been your most memorable sporting moment?
My most memorial sporting moment was when I represented Great Britain at the Wheelchair Basketball Under 25 World Championships in Canada, where we were lucky enough to win a Bronze Medal. We beat Canada, the home country in their own stadium, which upset a few spectators, but it was one of my proudest moments.
What would you describe as your greatest personal achievement outside of sport – and what makes it so special?
I have two proud personal achievements away from sport. The first was when I carried the London 2012 Olympic torch through my hometown. After being nominated by a school friend, I was selected to be one of the 8,000 torchbearers to carry the Olympic flame as part of the Olympic torch relay. This was honestly the best day of my life; the crowds were amazing and to have all my friends and family there watching me made it feel really special.
My second most memorable moment outside of sport was when I went out to Rio to work on the Rio 2016 Paralympic games as part of the Channel 4 coverage. This was the start of my career in television, where I was working as a researcher, making sure all the commentators, presenters and directors knew everything they needed to know about the sport or athletes.
At a practical level, do you think enough is done to support young people in the UK with physical disabilities, and if not, what areas should be tackled as a matter of priority?
I think there is a lot of opportunities for young people with a disability, however, not all of these young people know about all of the opportunities available to them. I think more needs to be done to make sure that some young people don’t slip through the cracks. It’s important all young people are given an equal opportunity and are offered the same services, to make sure everyone is supported.
The UK government and society, in general, would probably like to think it’s come a long way in addressing issues associated with disability. How far do you think we still have to go?
I feel very lucky to live in the world that I live in today. I know it’s still not perfect but Disabled people are treated the most equally they ever have been. However, there is still a long way to go. Disabled people nowadays still experience discrimination within the workplace, they experience difficulties in everyday life, for example on transport, and disabled people are also still being discriminated by people’s views, opinions and lack of education. We still have a long way to go until disabled people are treated on a level playing field, but we are certainly closer than we ever have been.
Young people have many different challenges to face and barriers to overcome – physical, mental, emotional, psychological, financial – and so if there was one message, one piece of advice you could give to help that community from your own experience, what would it be?
Be determined and never give up! Never settle for something that doesn’t feel right. Keep persevering until you reach your full potential and achieve everything you’ve always dreamed of.
A big part of dealing effectively with any form of discrimination is about challenging and changing perceptions. If you were given an opportunity of contributing to that dialogue, where would you start and what would be the first issue you would tackle?
The first perception I would challenge about disabled people is the perception that we are “less than Human”. This is simply not true. I am living proof that despite having a disability, I have still been able to live a normal and able life just like all my friends and family. I have achieved just as much as a lot of people my age, I have had an education which has allowed me to gain a degree, and I have lived a very active and healthy lifestyle. I would class this as Human.
The film and documentary ‘Rising Phoenix’ is an absolutely wonderful masterpiece of filming that presents such inspiring stories filled with emotion and determination to overcome any barrier against all the odds. How did you come to be involved?
I was actually very lucky enough to stumble across this job. After a few months of unemployment, I applied for a job with a company to work on a fashion documentary. I went into London to meet the directors, who turned around to me and said they loved my CV but didn’t want me for the fashion job, because they had another project, they thought I’d fit perfectly into.
They then told me about Rising Phoenix, at the time it was all still just an idea, but I just grinned and immediately accepted. It turned out to be the most rewarding job I’ve ever worked on.
A lot of able-bodied people see disability as a weakness, and yet the stories in ‘Rising Phoenix’ are about sportspeople who see it more as a strength. How do you explain that difference in perspective?
I think a difference in perspective just comes down to a lack of education. Some people haven’t had enough experience and education about disability, they only know about the picture society paints about disability, as they haven’t had the opportunity to experience it first-hand. Due to this, if anyone ever has any questions about my disability then I will happily tell them and educate them about my disability and my life.
The film tells the story of Ludwig Guttman and the world owes a massive debt to him as the first person to recognise the value of sport for disabled people. If you could have spent some time with him, what would have been the one question you’d have asked him?
One question I would have asked Sir Ludwig Guttman is: Why was it so important for you to give disabled people a chance? He was an amazing man who changed a lot of perceptions about disability. Disabled people have a lot to Thank Sir Ludwig Guttman for.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you being active?
Away from lockdown, I usually go to the gym at least 3 times a week and then also train for wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby once a week too. So, when the lockdown was introduced, I was feeling anxious and at a loss without all my regular sport.
Tell us about your Wheelchair Workouts and your work with WheelPower?
At the beginning of lockdown, I noticed that there were limited exercise videos online for people with an impairment and the few that I did find were not very engaging and motivating. So, I decided to have a go at setting up my own YouTube Channel- Ella’s Wheelchair Workouts, which aims to supply anyone with an impairment, upper body workouts to complete in their own homes. Ella’s Wheelchair Workouts are a series of exercises that work participants upper body through strength training, cardio training and resistant band training.
Since posting my first video in April, the workouts have been greatly received. In the beginning, I managed to get myself the reputation of being the ‘broom girl’ because I understood that a lot of people don’t have home exercise equipment, but they do have brooms, tins of beans and old tights! I still continue to include these various pieces of household equipment in my routines to this day and they bring an added bit of fun to my classes.
During the pandemic, I have partnered with a variety of disability charities and gyms from all around the country, including WheelPower. Together we have been able to create lots of exercise videos for both adults and children, and I also now deliver live classes via zoom to continue to help people with an impairment to stay active whilst they are at home.
What sport or physical activity are you most looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over?
Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby. Without a doubt, I am missing these two sports the most. I am also missing the social aspects of these sports just as much as well. Some of my closest friends are in the teams so I cannot wait to be back on the court with them and feeling physically and mentally active again.