Out of Touch documents the unique experiences of Western Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020.
Robyn Lambird was pushing their body to peak performance ahead of their first Paralympic Games when the news of the postponement came down. The sudden slow down in training, quickly revealed the need to take better care of their body and mind. Robyn, who’s 4th in the world for 100-metre wheelchair racing, has been building in better nutrition and rest, while also growing their role as a fierce disability advocate. Robyn gives us a lot to learn: how we can take care of ourselves and become more inclusive of people with disabilities in our community.
Copyright © 2020 Robyn Lambird
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories and the State Library of Western Australia by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
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I’ve had a disability since birth and I don’t think I’ve really let that stop me from doing what I want to do. I think, really, if you want something, you can go out and do it. Certain people might have a harder time in doing that. You know, there might be more obstacles, but if you believe in yourself and you surround yourself with people that believe in you, then anything is possible.
I’m training my ass off and I’m trying to get to the Paralympics, you know, if someone was training for the Olympics, that’s quite inspirational. But it’s not inspirational because I’m disabled, it’s inspirational because of the work that I’ve put in.
To me, I see sport as being my job. I’ve trained six days a week. For me, it’s just a job. But I also see it as being a platform. I’m able to connect with people and especially other young people with disabilities and sort of to be a mentor and to help them realise what their passions are and their vocation is. So, I think, yeah, definitely Coronavirus has helped me realise ‘Why am I doing this?’ Like if I’m not competing, why am I still training? Oh, because you know, this is the platform that gives me the opportunity to connect with people.
You know, there’s an incredibly high rate of young people with disabilities that are not encouraged to participate in sport. They get to a certain age and it’s just like, you know, it’s not for you, it’s something physical and perhaps you’d be better suited to being in the library or at school and stuff like that. So, a lot of people are interested in getting involved in sport and then also sort of just navigating being a young adult with a disability, having a body that’s different to other people. And how do you navigate that and how do you connect with people.
I do say “disabled person”, not “a person with a disability” because I don’t think I need to remind anyone that I’m a person. I mean, you don’t say a person with “woman-ness” or a person with “gayness”, you know, you say a “woman” or, you know, a “gay person”. Cause we realised that it’s just another part of someone’s identity and it’s nothing to shy away from. In fact, a lot of words have power and to me, I’d rather just say the word and deal with the issues, the reasons why I’m disabled, which quite frequently isn’t because of my impairment, it’s because of lack of access and stuff like that.
Especially as a disabled person, everyone’s working from home now or has had a period of working from home. That’s something that disabled people have been campaigning for a long time. Having the opportunity to be able to work in an environment that works for us. And seeing that businesses are now saying, ‘Oh, we can have more flexible working arrangements’ is a good thing.
At the start people, I don’t think, were taking it too seriously because we are so lucky in WA that, you know, we just shut the borders and it didn’t seem like too much of a risk. But I think any risk is a risk enough. So yeah, just trying to push the message that, you know, we should be social distancing and because it might not be you, but it might be your grandma or someone’s friend or someone’s dad, who’s going through chemo. Like there’s a lot of people that are vulnerable to stuff like this.
I think we’ve actually been doing really well. I mean, all my family is based in the UK and sort of seeing what’s happening over there, it’s quite concerning. I think, you know, my grandparents haven’t left the house for months now because the situation’s so out of control over there. I’m personally pretty proud of the way that we sort of just got stuff done, closed the borders. Everyone eventually started practicing social distancing and I think, you know, it’s also made a lot of people realise what’s important. You know, we’ve had more time to spend with our family. We’ve had more time to spend outdoors and it’s also made people realise that a lot of the things that we were doing, you know, there are other ways to do that.
And I think especially as a disabled person, everyone’s working from home now or has had a period of working from home. That’s something that disabled people have been campaigning for a long time. Having the opportunity to be able to work in an environment that works for us. And seeing that businesses are now saying, ‘Oh, we can have more flexible working arrangements’ is a good thing.
When we sort of got to the Coronavirus period I ended up just doing a lot of work at home on the roller—which is not that entertaining, kind of just pushing to nowhere, but it gets the job done. Usually if the track’s closed, I’d hit the park or hit the path. But it was pretty busy. I think everyone, yeah, was just looking for anywhere they could go and do something.
So, for me, I was obviously going into my first Paralympic games in 2020, hopefully. So, I was really working hard to sort of peak for that and to put in my best performance. And I think I was going into that qualification period ranked third in the world. So, in the four years, I’ve climbed from 13th to third in the world. So I was on track for a really good season. So, I mean, it was a bit of a shock to hear that wasn’t going to happen. It’s like working. You sort of work really hard to get the time off, to go on a holiday. And then a lot of people, you know, get to that holiday and then they start feeling run down or, you know, they get sick because their body’s like, ‘Oh, I can relax now.’ And I guess that’s what happened with me when we sort of got to the Coronavirus period. I ended up getting a lot of injuries and sicknesses because my body was like, ‘Oh, we can chill out. We don’t have to train so hard, like, cause there’s nothing to train for,’ I guess.
For a little while, obviously the WA Institute of Sport was closed. So, I didn’t have access to the gym there and also the track was closed. We sort of transitioned to doing a lot of stuff at home. I have rollers, which is kind of like a little treadmill system for the chair. So, I was doing a lot of work on that. And then also I was pretty lucky because my dad actually owns a gym. ‘Cause we live together, we still had access to that. I was actually able to do a lot more strength work which was quite beneficial for me.
It’s just looking at, ‘Why am I doing this?’ You know, why am I so passionate about competing and why am I so passionate about being an athlete? In this period where all of our competitions and all the things that we’re usually focused on has been taken away. It’s made me realise that it’s almost, it’s bigger than those competitions, the reason that I can compete and the reason that I train six days a week. And I think that’s helped build my resilience—I might not feel like doing this training session, but it’s leading to something bigger. So every session counts, you know.
So just before my warm up at the world champs in 2019, I went into that comp ranked third in the world and my wheelchair was broken. I couldn’t push in a straight line. I was going across three different lines trying to push in a straight line, just before I was going into the cold room, where we sort of line up for our race. So, I had the mechanic frantically working to try and fix my chair and I basically didn’t get an opportunity to warm up for that race. So, I think before the race had even started, I’d sort of discounted it like, you know, ‘I’m not prepared, I’m not ready’. So now I’m just a little bit more mindful of, you know, no matter what the situation I’ve put in the training before, like my body knows what to do, it doesn’t matter. So that’s what we’re sort of working on now.
I think if you want something, you can go out and do it—I mean, with it being my first Paralympic games, we’re trying to remain realistic, working on getting faster and chasing national records and stuff like that. You know, to end up on the podium, wherever that is, would be an absolute dream come true.