Hannah Dodd–Triumph Over Adversity

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A current Pony Club member and elite athlete, Pony Club NSW chats to Hannah about her life, passion, and what it takes to overcome a crippling disease to represent Australia at the Paralympics.

When did your passion for horses begin?

My family is a horsey family; both of my older brothers (who were 9 and 7 when I was born) were riding when I came along. I started having rides around the paddock in front of their saddles and it was where I laughed and giggled the most, (I was incredibly sick around this time) so it stuck! As I got older I think the thing that drew me in was horse riding was a sport where the rules didn’t have to be changed for me to do it, no allowances were needed and on a horse I look pretty normal, on the ground not so much!

Can you provide us with an insight into what it is like living with Sacral Agenesis?

Sacral Agenesis is a fairly rare disorder. I actually have a mix of three spinal disorders–Spina Bifida, Sacral Agenesis and Caudal Regression Syndrome. I identify as Sacral Agenesis, as while I have markers of the other two, I’m closest to Sacral Agenesis. Sacral Agenesis affects each patient differently depending on where the spine stops, for me I'm missing my sacrum and coccyx bones and as such the spinal cord normally protected by these bones is deformed. The nerves in that section of your spine control things like your legs, development, function and movement, your renal system, kidneys, bladder and lower parts of your intestines. These deformities for me meant that my right foot was born backwards and has no calf muscle. I only have one kidney that has about 20% function, I have mild scoliosis and a twisted pelvis, the whole right side of my body is shorter and weaker and I'm generally just a bit out of proportion, size 8 body but size 12 ribcage! Sacral Agenesis is also a degenerative disorder with multiple complications that again vary from person to person. From a young age I’ve had problems with my renal system with constant infections and bouts with peritonitis. I am slowly loosing kidney function as well; I used to have about 25% and am now down to 20%. I developed subluxation in my joints through puberty which means they pop in and out easily and dislocate frequently. I wear an AFO or calliper on my right leg and generally have to use my crutches or my wheelchair to cover long distances.

But other than the occasional hospital trip and remembering you have limits, Sacral Agenesis is a fairly easy disorder to get around as long as you follow the medication routine and live a healthy lifestyle you're pretty good.

Describe a typical day in your life as you prepare for the Paralympics.

7am wake up, though this depends on whether or not I’ve had a good night or not. Take medications, have breakfast and do the horses. After that it depends on the day usually a riding session on Kiwi, a gym session, recovery (compression skins/bandaging, ice, cold shower, recovery food). Paper work or uni work, household chores, work (Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon). Physio (Tuesday and Friday), feed up horse around 4:30, 6 on work nights. Home for a low GI dinner, shower core stability work out and bed to start it all over again the next day!

What are your dreams and aspirations?

Obliviously I'm about to tick off a huge one in the Paralympics, it doesn’t get much better than that! I’d love to finish top five or six in London, I think we're capable of that. After London there is of course WEG 2014 in France and Rio 2016. I’m hoping to give the young rider dressage world cup a crack next year if I have a horse. I'd love to at some stage in my life compete at Grand Prix in open dressage. Outside of horses, I'd love to finish my uni degree (sport and exercise science) and get stuck into my Masters (prosthetics and orthotics), and work in a prosthetics lab and make them a little more user friendly, (take it from someone that uses them... they are not user friendly in the slightest!) After that who knows!!

What advice do you have for young Pony Club members hoping to follow in your footsteps?

Be prepared to work hard. Having a good horse doesn’t make you a good rider. Never stop learning and always keep an open mind when with different coaches than your normal one, they may not train or ride the way you do but they all have one or two tricks that you can use. MOST IMPORTANTLY never stop having fun!!! If it becomes something you have to do rather then something you WANT to do you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. And last but not least enjoy spending time with your horse whether they’re being golden or rotten because at the end of the day they'll end up being one of your best friends.

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