Hi, I’m Martina. I am an elite athlete with learning disability. I want to share my story to inspire you, maybe even change the way you think about learning disability. If you want to talk to me about anything, you can find me on twitter as @martina_barber1.
I am a World and double European champion in the Heptathlon. I also hold the British Heptathlon Record. I am classified as a T/F20 athlete. This means I have a learning disability.
I am involved in lots of other things besides athletics. You will get to read more about my very busy life later on in this blog! My motto is ‘never give up and always give your best in everything you do’. I apply this to my sport, my work, my education and everything else!
I’m a Heptathlete because I love being able to master lots of different events. As a T/F20 athlete I can only enter 4 events in athletics. I’m focusing on the 400m and long jump for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
Since the ban in 2000 in Sydney, IPC (the International Paralympic Committee) have made it harder for athletes with leaning disability to participate in sports at an elite level. We can take part in 3 sports out of 23 sports in the Paralympic games. The events are Swimming, Athletics and Table Tennis. In Athletics we can only take part in 4 events, which are the 1500m, Long Jump, Shot Put and 400m. Lots of athletes are having to change their event just to compete at the Paralympics. I think there should be more sports and events in athletics for athletes with learning disability.
When I was at school I struggled in the classroom. I wasn’t good at it but when it came to PE I was good. I enjoyed it and even got a bit competitive at times! When I left school for college, it was a barrier because I find change hard to work with. I was at a small school. We had 12 pupils and 2 teachers to every class and then college was BIG. We had about 30 students and only 1 teacher in the class. This was a big change for me and took me a while to get used to.
I was the only one in my class that had a disability in all 4 years at college, so I found it hard to speak to people in my class. My college didn’t help me through this. Even though I struggled, I always gave it my best and worked hard, and with the right support I got through it. I’m not going to lie, I found it tough and stressful at times, because I had to do my work in my spare time at college and at home to keep up. I didn’t give up or quit, I kept on going and stuck with it. I knew what I wanted to achieve and I knew I could achieve it.
In my second year of college I was told I couldn’t do the next level of sport at college, because they couldn’t continue to support me. A tutor I admire told me. I felt annoyed. You can imagine what it feels like when someone tells you that you can’t do something.
So I went to North Herts College to see if they would let me do the course. I thought they were going to say no, but they said yes. I did the course and passed. I proved to the last college I could do it. I felt proud because I didn’t give up, I didn’t let what they said get in my way.
If you work and have the right support no matter what it takes, you can achieve and succeed at what you want. So if someone says you can’t do something, go and prove them wrong by having a positive mind-set, because you can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it.
Being an Athlete Ambassador
I am proud to be My Sport, My Voice! Ambassador for the UK Sports Association. I enjoy inspiring and educating people. I like to show people that anyone with a learning disability or disability can achieve or succeed at anything.
I have lots of highlights from all the community visits that I have done. I think getting to speak at the House of Lords in front of a lot of important people was one of my favourite highlights! It was amazing!
The project has helped me develop as a person. I was shy before but now I can speak to people that I don’t know. It’s helped me with my communication skills, personal development skills and I have grown in my confidence to.
I think it is important to work hard and try my best in everything I do. I might not get things right or understand the first time, but I don’t give up. I try and I try again until I can do it! In athletics, I practice the same thing over and over again so I remember what I have been taught. This takes a lot of commitment, time and energy but it is worth it.
I think if you put your all into everything you do, you will get positives result and may even surprise yourself. If you don’t try your hardest you could end up wishing you had done more.
British Athletics – the dream
I was part of the British Athletics Parallel Success team for 2 years. This is for athletes with a disability and have potential to go to Rio 2016 and\or Tokyo 2020. I train hard for 6 or even 7 days a week. It would be amazing to get to be in the Paralympics because I will be competing with the best in the world.
I haven’t really thought too much about what I will do after athletics, but I would like to work in sport with people with disabilities and coach them different kinds of sports. I am qualified to coach over 10 different sports! My favourites are sitting volleyball, blind football and athletics (I have to say Athletics!).
I would like to continue being a role model to inspire people. I strongly believe in showing people we can all overcome barriers. With the right support, and a hard working attitude, you can do it. Maybe not overnight, it could take time, but if you create and believe, you will achieve!