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A Lottery funded project run by Arthritis Care helped change Sam Crothers’ life. When he first developed arthritis as a young teenager he struggled to cope. But now he is thriving – he plays table tennis for Ulster and Ireland, leads personal development weekends for young people and teaches armchair aerobics, boccia, New Age kurling. And he does it all from his wheelchair.
Sam, 23, from east Belfast, was diagnosed with arthritis at 13 after having difficulties walking and taking part in PE classes. He spent eight weeks in hospital at that time and felt like he was getting left behind when he returned to school.
“People didn’t really understand. There was a lot of raking and slagging because arthritis is seen as an old people’s condition and here I was having to get around school on a walking stick,” he said.
“The raking sometimes got to me but the physio at Musgrave, where I spent a lot of my time in my teens, put me in touch with Arthritis Care – and that was the start of things changing in my life.”
Attending personal development weekends with Arthritis Care increased Sam’s confidence and helped him deal with the barriers he faced. Life was on the up for him as he completed his GCSEs and went on to study business administration at college.
“I even had aspirations to set up my own business but then life stepped in – just as I was finishing my course I was diagnosed with a neurological condition at 20 which means I am now a full-time wheelchair user. That was a low point and I did get depressed,” he said.
With his confidence shaken, Sam turned again to Arthritis Care. It’s a lifeline to Sam and thousands of other people across Northern Ireland who suffer from this debilitating condition.
“I volunteered in their office and as a youth contact officer, training to deliver the development residentials I’d attended as a teenager myself. I then progressed to its FIT project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, to help people with arthritis look after their health,” he said.
Through FIT Sam qualified as an instructor in boccia, New Age kurling and arm chair aerobics. He now travels around Arthritis Care groups delivering classes, often to people much older than him – including a 90-year-old lady who is top of the class.
“I love those classes because I get so much back from the people – just seeing their enjoyment is enough for me and it’s great to be taking part in sport again,” he said.
“Arthritis Care gave me that confidence to look again at sport and see what was achievable. I’m now playing table tennis for Ulster and Ireland.
“Getting involved with FIT is one of the best things I’ve ever done. In the early days I thought my disability would hold me back but now I realise you can do as much, and maybe more, than other people.”