Helen McKnight has done karate on and off since she was 14 years old – here she tells us why.
After many misdiagnoses and doctors appointments I was finally diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia type 35 (SCA35). I had never heard of ataxia and neither had any of my family or friends – I was the first one in my family to be diagnosed with ataxia.
My neurologist recommended Ataxia UK and I went to the Nottingham Support Group and met others affected by ataxia. One member of the group suggested I see Prof Marios Hadjivassiliou at the Sheffield Specialist Ataxia Centre who diagnosed with me SCA35. The gene mutation is TGM6 and I have it tattooed on my neck – I own my disease; it doesn’t own me!
When my mum and dad got divorced I was 14 years old. My mum said it was time for us (her, my two sisters and I) to learn to defend ourselves so we started karate. Over the years teachers knew there was something wrong with me but didn’t know what it was so they wouldn’t take me on as a student.
Almost four years ago I was going into a well-known supermarket and there was a company doing a promotion outside – GKR karate. They approached me and said they could help me and they gave me an opportunity. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s an accessible company where nobody calls you out for doing it wrong – everyone does it in their own way. Other people there have different conditions and being with them makes me feel less alone. On good days karate makes me feel like I don’t have a disability. On bad days, I am trying again. A bad day doesn’t put me off karate, it makes me more determined to try and do my best.
SCA35 affects me in many ways. I have invisible pain, a delayed memory, fatigue, confusion, insomnia, aching joints, issues with feeling cold, and I fidget during the night.
I personally find karate to be one step up from physiotherapy. It has helped me to walk and sometime balances (but not always!).
I have completed two Kata tournaments and won two bronze medals. In the third general tournament I came fourth but for me it was still a win. Last year on Halloween I gained a green belt in Kata Saifa grading. I now have around eight months to polish my Kata Saifa to gain my blue belt. Wish me luck!