26 year old Kerrie Leonard from Culmullen Co. Meath has been in a wheelchair since she was in a farm accident aged 6. Shes a woman of many passions, a horse breeder, a photographer and an international archer. Kerrie comes from the “go hard or go home” school, and has invested greatly in her sport in the hopes of some day becoming an Paralympian. We chatted to Kerrie about what has made her into the awesome role model she has become, and what her plans are for the future.
Kerrie, we know that you are more than your injury, but can you tell us about your feelings towards your wheelchair now? Do you have good days and bad, or are you always focused and determined to succeed
Strangely I am very grateful to my disability I have grown up with it and it gives you a very different perspective on life (Some of which has to do with the fact that I have to look up at everyone!) It isn’t who I am but it has made me who I am. I don’t sweat the small stuff because there are far bigger and badder things out there. However, when I feel passionate about something I do dig my heels in, so people know that I am someone to be reckoned with.
Of course I have bad days, everyone does. Rarely they have anything to do with the wheelchair and usually it is a problem created by my physical environment. If there are steps into buildings or no accessible bathrooms that is a problem I cannot solve on my own and I need to ask for help… which I hate doing.
I suffer from bouts of depression which is something I think I’m genetically predisposed to and would suffer from whether I was in a wheelchair or not. I use the analogy of standing on a coast line and being hit by wave after wave until you feel so overwhelmed you may drown. If you hold your ground for long enough the waves will break and the sea will be calm again. That is how I get through those periods.
Sometimes I wish I had more focus! I do so many different things to stay active and keep my mind active/distracted it can be hard to keep everything going but I love being as busy as I can and when I achieve success in one area it gives me more determination to succeed in everything else.
How would you describe your personality?
My personality is always fighting with itself. I think I am a very optimistic person and I think I try to be as creative as I can when roadblocks get in the way, but given my experience in life I am a realist. I am resourceful and try to play down the fact that I am in a wheelchair. I like to say that there is no problem, until there is a problem. I am currently doing an agricultural course and I am their first person in a wheelchair to do it so we are all trying to figure out what I can do or not do but I am trying to reassure them that it will be fine. I’m sure it should be the other way around but that tends to happen with me!
What would you say is your philosophy in life?
I don’t think I have a philosophy per say. Maybe “eyebrows maketh the woman”! No I would say that after many years of trying to deny that my wheelchair exists I now know that I am the sum of all my parts. I hated parts of myself for years and then I realised that to be the happiest version of myself all those perceived “flaws” are there for a reason. I embraced the good and the bad parts and I work constantly on the bad parts. I want to be a better person for myself and I want to contribute in a meaningful way to those around me.
What advice would you give to a younger girl who sometimes doubts herself.
Doubt is a good thing. Doubt and doing it anyway is the most important thing. In 2011 I had the year from hell, just through and through. There was no redeemable parts of it. I dropped out of college and I had lots of personal problems that left me feeling like I was spiraling out of control. I was scared about what I would do and getting up in the morning was an effort.
Over Christmas that year, I was very emotional and if you even looked at me too long I was likely to burst into tears. My aunt helped me do my CV up over the holidays and for fun we submitted it into the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. They had a very strong inclusion policy and guaranteed a first round interview if you had a disability. I saw the role requirements and experience necessary, I dismissed the whole idea because I didn’t have some of the skills that they were looking for. I applied and sure enough I got my first round interview, followed by a face to face interview that I flew to London for and then eventually got the job.
I had the most amazing experience that will stay with me forever and I can’t even imagine not applying for the role now and what I would have missed out on, I shudder to think. The biggest thing though was when the Games were finishing up I was looking for my next step and started looking at job roles again and I saw some skills I didn’t have but I could see all the skills I did have and began focusing on those. My thinking changed just from that little bit of motivation and I stopped leading with negativity and saw the opportunities available to me.
We’re humans we are meant to have doubt, it keeps us alive, but if you are passionate about something who is anyone to tell you, you can’t do it. You need to believe in yourself or you will miss out on so many amazing experiences. Once you put yourself out there more and more doors will open to you.
You’ve had ups and down in your sporting career, how do you pick yourself up from the bad times?
Pig headedness! I never want to look back and regret. I say yes to almost anything because I regret the things I say no to. I didn’t qualify for Rio and it was very close, I can’t let Tokyo go by without at least giving it my all. I couldn’t look back and say what if. It is natural for sporting disappointment, in fact it leads to your future successes. When I get angry about not qualifying for Rio it makes me determined to get to Tokyo and be better than I was before.
Who has been the greatest support in your life. Who’s your go to girl for a good vent?
My greatest support is probably my dad, he hardly ever says no if I need something and he’s pretty open minded so you can talk to him about most things.
I internalise a lot of things and so I try not to be negative around friends. I know that friendship is about leaning on one and other and that is one of my bad points that I’m working on being better at.
Independence comes at that price. It is a fantastic trait and one that has helped me become the person that I am but it is sometimes a hindrance in giving yourself to someone else.
Whats your go to song when you need to get really pumped?
The songs at the minute are Battle Born by The Killers and Glorious by Macklemore.