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Their inspirational stories


There are so many challenges in the world, and everyone goes through a fair amount of these in their lives. But some have to go through more than others, so we have three amazing survival stories from people who have overcome these challenges.


Dries Millard
T8 complete paraplegic

Before my disability, the course of my life was set thanks to full sporting bursaries and all the promise and aspirations of a professional rugby player. After my accident, I knew that I would have to find a new course. In the first year after my accident, I opened myself up to many disability-orientated programmes and activities. Everywhere I went, I could recognise the gap between the social lives of disabled and able communities. It is a sad fact that the world is unintentionally cruel towards disabled people.


Living life in a wheelchair, you learn to expect obstacles, many of which you didn’t have to face in the past. Learning to adapt to different situations is vital. Over the years, I’ve learned to do things in my chair that I never dreamed of doing before I landed in one. I just looked at other disabled people and knew that lifestyle was not for me.


I started to challenge everything that prevented my wheelchair from doing what I wanted it to do. Fear became my strength, and later that fear turned into curiosity. The more I succeeded in breaking my boundaries, the more boundaries I wanted to break. I began to forget that I was disabled; I started doing things that frighten even able-bodied people. I wanted to share my knowledge of breaking boundaries, overcoming fears and mastering life in a wheelchair with other disabled people.


After two years of teaching myself how to surf again, I finished a course in surfing instructing. I studied to be a tour guide, and I started doing motivational speeches. I want to give people living in wheelchairs the experience of a lifetime. I want to give them new reasons to live. I want to give them that experience of staring into the face of a great white shark, of jumping off the edge of a 100m drop, of flying over mountains and braving the swells of the ocean. I want to show people what it is like to find strength in fear. With Extreme Abilities Adaptive Tours, I am achieving that goal.


Cecilia Adamou
Born with a heart condition

My name is Cecilia-Joy. I’m 14 years and enjoy my laptop, makeup, bubble baths, Lush (the shop), scented candles, fashion, YouTube, sushi, gossip, and One Direction. I am also addicted to Instagram and spend half my life on Tumblr. In many ways, I am your average teenager, however, my life has been anything but ‘normal’.


I was born with a serious heart condition, which had been diagnosed weeks before I emerged, healthier than expected. Two operations, one at the age of six months and the other at two years old, kept me going until the age of 10. My symptoms, by this stage, were worsening, and I was struggling to continue with day-to-day life. I was cold almost all of the time, my heart unable to circulate my blood properly, and I could barley walk a few metres without feeling like I had just run a marathon. My family, doctor and I decide it was time for another operation, one that would hopefully improve my quality of life. So, on 12 April 2010, feeling every emotion possible, I was wheeled down to the theatre, hoping to come back changed for the better.


The operation on my heart didn’t work, and I went into heart failure. I spent four months in ICU, and finally, the doctors agreed I would not survive without a heart transplant.


Only two hospitals in the country are able to perform heart transplants on children, so for me it was a journey to Newcastle by ambulance, on full life-support. The Freeman hospital had agreed to take me in and put me on the transplant list. Once we arrived in the land of Geordies, I waited a month for my heart, and it finally came on 13 September 2010. It took me a while to get used to it, and I suffered a few cardiac arrests, but I eventually started to get a lot better. But there was one problem; my kidneys had begun to fail, and, bedridden for eight months, I had lost the ability to walk.

I was on dialysis for 18 months after returning to London, and on 27 July, during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, I received a kidney transplant. The donor, the person I love more than anybody in the world: my mum.


On 19 March 2013, I underwent surgery on my feet, and after a lot of hard work I was able to walk again.
Life can go wrong at any moment, so you should live everyday as though it’s your last. Have no regrets and jump at every opportunity; slow down so you don’t miss anything; be grateful for all that you have and always, always have fun!


Sonjia Norman
Fashion designer and environmental activist
Interview by Rebecca Koppenhaver

Sonjia Norman is a fashion designer, an environmental activist, a mother, and a self-described “hunter”. She is busy. 10 years ago, this daughter of a Korean mother and a South African father, decided she had more to offer the world than her full-time law career would allow. She quit her job and she hasn’t looked back since. Her acclaimed upscale Hong Kong atelier, Myst Limited, and her recent online site Sonjiaonline.com are the apogee of a life inspired by multiculturalism, love for the environment, art and beauty. She frequently travels the world looking for the rare and unusual: “I like to think of myself as a hunter, I’m always looking for the eclectic, something special and beautiful, those collectable items that people would not only think of as clothing, but appreciate as art.”


Five years ago, she added another important dimension to her life. After hearing about the massive gyres of floating plastic in the world’s oceans and the detrimental affect they are having on ocean and human life, she was propelled into action. She co-founded The Plastic Oceans Foundation in 2009. Based in Hong Kong and London, the foundation works to educate the public about plastic pollution in our oceans and to persuade industry to be more environmentally conscious in the manufacturing/disposing processes of plastics. The foundation is also finishing up production on the film, Plastic Oceans, A Toxic Love Story. Although the film portrays the plastic pollution situation as a challenging reality, Sonjia says it ultimately carries a hopeful and inspiring message that will encourage people to take action in their everyday lives. “I’m passionate about the cause”, says Sonjia. “People need to know how immense the problem is but that there are solutions.”


Staying true to her innovative nature, Sonjia has mixed her love of eclectic fashion with her altruistic endeavors. She has created a high-end line of collaged kimonos and shawls inspired by the beauty of the sea to benefit the foundation. The profits from the one-of-a kind stunning works will go entirely to The Plastic Oceans Foundation and are available on Sonjiaonline.com.

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