The power of words

21 03 2014

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few” 

“I have a dream…” 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

Words have tremendous power.  They can be beautiful, they can resonate. They can motivate and inspire. They can tear down and they can harm.  The best of them will be remembered and they will be recorded. For some people, all of the words that they utter will be listened to, analysed and repeated.  For others, they’ll feel like they are shouting in a world where no one listens.  But be certain, words have power.

There are countless things that I have said in my life that I’m ashamed of, that I shouldn’t have said and that have caused harm.  I hope there are some things that I have said that have inspired, built-up and conveyed love.  I try to choose my words carefully, I don’t always get it right. Far from it!

Fifteen years ago, a baby girl came into my life and I began to learn far more about words. How sometimes, you can’t find the right ones.  Sometimes they form sentences that you just don’t understand and how, used in the right way, words can comfort and encourage.  I learnt that words can carry connotations missed by some, held aloft by others and that words can label.

We know the impact of words in our society, the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ is so far from the truth that it has become laughable.  I’m sure we can remember words and labels that have been thrown at us in anger over the years, it can be hard to shake them off.

That little girl, my baby sister, has fought the negative impact of words for 15 years.  She’s been labelled, spoken down to, hurt and dismissed.  All by the use of negative words.  Of course, she’s also been blessed, encouraged, lifted up and praised by positive words.  As her siblings, we’ve learnt to protect her physically and emotionally.  We’ve fought battles for her and taught her how to fight her own.  She’s growing up an independent young woman of whom I am incredibly proud.  Yet still fiercely protective of, becomes sometimes, she needs a louder voice to shout for her.

Alice has Down’s Syndrome.  One extra little chromosome on the 21st pair. A triple shot instead of a double.  If that triplicate had occurred on most of the other chromosomes, it wouldn’t have been compatible with life.  That slight variation in genetics leads to some “typical” physical characteristics and can result in learning delay.  Alice looks like she has Down’s Syndrome but she looks far more like her family than she does anyone else with DS – so no, for the record, they “do not all look the same”.  Alice is a teenage girl, with teenage strops to match, so again, no, people with DS aren’t “all so loving”, they have emotions just like everyone else!  Alice learns at her own pace and in her own way.  She’s particular and she is stubborn. She’s the most compassionate person I know.


For Alice, words have huge impact.  If you say something, you better make sure you do it or mean it.  For her, it’s “I can” where others say “you can’t”.  For her, it’s “I’m normal”, where others say “You’re not”.  For her, it’s “I’m an achiever” where others say “you’re a retard”.

That word. Six letters that hold so much within them.  My parents always told me “you’ve got to pick your battles”.  This is one of mine.

It’s a word that is used to insult and injure.  However, it is so much more than that.  It is used as an insult to describe someone who has made a mistake, been slow to grasp a situation or perhaps said something deemed as silly.  The person using the word wants to insult and demote, to separate the other person off, to label them as different.

As a group of people, those with Down’s Syndrome and other learning difficulties, have fought for the last few decades to be respected, included and given access to everything their peers take for granted.  Using a word such as this as a slur, chips away at the respect that is hard fought for.  It makes it ok to infer that people with learning disabilities are inferior and the discrimination it encourages is painfully real.

I’m in my mid-twenties now, more confident and willing to call people out on their use of the words “retard”, “retarded” or “tard” than I was when Alice was first born.  You can call me over-sensitive to it, yes there are other words that society use in everyday speech that are rooted in slurs towards minority groups and no, that’s not ok either.  But this is my battle.

Often I hear ““They’re just words!”  ”I didn’t mean anything by them!”  ”I wasn’t talking about an actual person!”, I understand that.  The word has been absorbed into popular culture, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.

The words are being used to define someone as inferior, as lesser and as not normal.  That’s not ok.  So I will continue to correct and highlight the use of the word, because I want to protect Alice and to encourage her to carry on breaking down stereotypes.  Everyday she faces the power of words, she has to prove herself as able and competent.  She is at mainstream school and she fights to keep up.  In society, she has to tolerate being ignored, patronised and spoken down to.  That’s not ok.  And it’s not ok that Alice should hear the word retard used in every day language, it’s certainly not ok for it to be directed to her and it being used as a poor, ignorant and uneducated stereotype to insult is most definitely not ok either.

Alice loves comedy, she adores Miranda Hart and has a wicked sense of humour of her own.  She flicks on the television and watches comedy, just like many other teenagers  Some comedians have been called out for referring to “retards” in their material.  It demonstrate ignorance to try and make comedy out of something you clearly do not understand and it makes it socially acceptable to use the word.  If they did understand, the word wouldn’t come into their vocabulary as, of all people, those who use words for a living, should really know better.

So this is one of the words I hate the most and this is why.

My Mother wrote a talk recently and in it she said “I wouldn’t change my daughter for the world, but I would change the world for my daughter.”  I can echo that sentiment.

So please, next time you go to use the word “retard” as a slur, think twice and come up with something else to say.

The 21st March is World Down’s Syndrome Day, chosen because it represents the third chromosome that is present on the 21st pair.

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Things Alice has taught me

5 09 2012

I picked up a book to bring on this trip without realising that one of the main characters has Downs Syndrome, it was a lovely story that moved me to tears and actually this was mostly because I’ve been away a lot this summer and I’ve really missed Alice.

It got me thinking about what Alice has taught me over the last thirteen years that perhaps I wouldn’t have learned from my other siblings.  Here is the start of my little list…

Things Alice has taught me:

  1. If there is any option over colour then pink is the only one you should consider. Ideally, pink and glittery. In fact, everything should be pink and glittery, full stop.

  2. Chocolate is good. If something has chocolate on it or in it, then it must be good. Chocolate ice cream is even better. Sweets however, are not great – why have sweets when you could have chocolate?

  3. You don’t have to live life at 100mph. It’s okay to walk at a slower pace – you see more of the world that way. It’s okay to take time to talk, instead of rushing conversations, you listen better that way.

  4. There is something magical about dancing. Dancing makes people happy. You can dance wherever and whenever you like. If there isn’t any music, then sing but just make sure you dance with no inhibitions. Who cares what you look like? If there is someone with you, make them dance too.

  5. Music is brilliant. If you listen to enough of it, you’ll know what the song is as soon as the first notes are played. You’ll also know all of the words and be able to sing along…and dance.

  6. Hugs are medicinal. Everyone should have plenty of hugs as part of their daily routine. Proper bear hugs which squeeze happiness into your body.

  7. When you see someone you know, squeal their name, smile and give them a big hug. Act as if you haven’t seen them in ages, even if it has just been a day.

  8. Reading is an escape route. You can read about so many different adventures. Reading opens up the world, you can learn about anything by reading about it and reciting it to anyone who will listen. The best time to read is late at night when you ought to be going to sleep. Don’t let that stop you though, illicit reading when your parents have told you to turn your light out is the best kind of reading.

  9. Routine is paramount, whoever thinks that it isn’t hasn’t seen the world through the eyes of a child with DS. Everyone should know that when you come in from school, you get changed then have a sausage roll and a piece of fruit. Regardless of whether your sister is offering freshly baked cake that smells delicious (but you are allowed to comment on it smelling good).

  10. If you find it funny, laugh. It doesn’t matter what people think, laugh big hearty laughs that can be heard a mile away. It is good for your health. Oh, and on that note, tell jokes until you are blue in the face. Knock knock jokes are the best but that goes without saying.

  11. The art of compassion is sacred. You can tell how people really feel by looking in their eyes, ask if they are okay and really mean it. Listen to the response properly….and then give them a big hug anyway.

  12. Blending words can sometimes be a really great way to express yourself. For example if something is beautiful and pretty – it is prettiful. Kind of obvious really!

  13. Having an imaginary friend means there is always someone there to talk life through with. They remind you to turn the light out when leaving a room and help you remember what to pack in your school bag. Have you tried talking to your imaginary friend recently? You never know how useful they could be nowadays!

  14. Life is exciting, everything can be an adventure if you choose to see it that way.

Most importantly…

  1. When something feels unachievable to you, or people are saying you can’t do it, don’t let that stop you – you can, will, achieve whatever you put your mind to. Another great feeling? Proving people’s preconceptions wrong.

A few snapshots!

23 04 2012

Just before the start with a few other DSA runners:

With Alice and the banner Mum & Alice made!

There will be some running photos once I’ve grabbed them from various people!!! In the meantime, here’s the end!

B x

Quite simply 26.2 miles.

23 04 2012

WELL they say that you have to have forgotten the pain of your last marathon before you attempt another one.  By the time I crossed the finishing line on the Mall yesterday, I was addicted.  When’s the next one?!

Quite seriously, I loved yesterday and despite moments of agonising pain and one or two fleeting thoughts of ‘CAN I do this?’ (soon bashed out by ‘of course I bloody can, you wuss’, those are completely overtaken by the amazing atmosphere, great support and phenomenal runners.

When I arrived in Greenwich Park yesterday morning with thousands of other runners, the atmosphere was one of nervous excitement.  I met some of the other DSA runners just outside the gates and we managed to get a couple of photos.  Then that was it…off I went through the big red gate – there was no turning back now!  I met an old school friend, Mark, just inside the gate which was a great way to feel a bit calmer before the race.  We giggled at the fancy dress costumes (absolutely in awe of those running in costumes!), dropped our bags off and joined the epic queue for the final loo stop!

The five minute call went off and we both went off to our respective ‘pens’ for the start.  This was it! I took my place in the huge mix of runners from a variety of backgrounds, ages, abilities and expectations.  We counted down to the start and…. nothing happened!  We slowly edged forward but I didn’t actually cross the start line for another 27 minutes.  The first mile was quite slow as the crowds gradually lessened and there was more room on the road.

I quickly discovered my watch wasn’t pacing or counting distance properly, I wonder whether it was because I changed the batteries in the foot pod (the bit that does pace/distance) just before the race but at the mile 1 marker I worked out that the pace my watch said I was doing was wrong!  That was a shame because I do like knowing what pace I’m doing and it meant I had to quickly change it to the simple stopwatch and do some maths as I went!

The first 10km whizzed past and I saw Mum, Dad, Jack and Alice at mile 6 just as we came through Greenwich.  Coming past the Old Naval College and the newly restored Cutty Sark was excellent and the crowd support was brilliant!  It was far hotter than anticipated and despite wearing suncream, I have some pretty impressive sunburn on my shoulders, arms, chest and face!

As we approached mile 9, my hamstring started playing up and I could feel pressure on my patella – I whipped my knee support off to relieve it and it certainly improved.  Mile 10-13 it got steadily worse and I could feel the site of the tear from 5 weeks ago really straining.  By this point however, we were just coming over Tower Bridge in the sunshine and you can’t help but feel a real sense of patriotism and excitement as you head over the bridge.  We turned right to head down into the long stretch around the docklands and for about half a mile we ran alongside one part of the road whilst those at mile 22-23 ran alongside the other!  Super speedy lot!  I had seen my family again at mile 12 which was great – it gave you such a lift seeing familiar faces.

For me, mile 14-18 were probably my worst.  Emotionally, the support from the crowds gives you such a lift but physically, I was desperately trying to relieve some of the pressure on my right hamstring.  I powerwalked a couple of minutes in each mile to give myself a chance to stretch it out as much as possible and at this point realised that my 4.5-5hr target was quickly drifting away.  After shaking myself out of my disappointment, I realised that actually, walking wasn’t any less painful than running so I might as well just get on with it and stopped the run/walk splits after 4 miles.  Spotting the first official Downs Syndrome Association cheer point between mile 18 and 19 was brilliant and my family were there too – mad waving ensued!

Miles 20-25 pushed past (saw my family at mile 24, and the DSA about mile 23), by this point I was on the home straight and although, at times, I felt that I couldn’t possibly have got much slower without going backwards, I was really loving the atmosphere. The crowd support during the marathon is amazing, people cheer you on (the reason why having your name on your shirt is essential!), hand out jelly babies, pieces of fruit and spray suncream at you!  There are live bands on every corner ranging from jazz quartets to full blown marching bands.  There is a definite carnival atmosphere.

At mile 25, the end was truly in sight and the feeling as we came past the 800m, 600m and 400m to go signs was incredible.  Turning the corner by Buckingham Palace and seeing the finishing line was brilliant (even as the heavens opened!) and I felt very emotional.  My official time is 05:41:05.

Once I had actually gone through the finish, I couldn’t stop running – it was like my muscles were saying ‘well you’ve started it, so we’re not stopping!’.

I finally hobbled through onto Horseguards Parade and met up with my family.  Big thanks to the DSA who had a reception area in Drummonds Bank on Trafalgar Square – the shower that I grabbed there was the best feeling in the world!

So I can justifiably call myself a running convert, I loved the experience and my first reaction was ‘well that time is not what I wanted, I’ve got to do it again to beat my time!’.

Huge thanks to all of you who have supported me over the last six months.  It has meant so much to me!  Thank you to all those who have dug deep and sponsored me – it makes such a difference to the DSA and to their work.  Alice did say she was proud, just before she told me to ‘stop being a lazy bones and get up’ as our train pulled into the station.  Cheeky!

Now…what’s the next challenge?!

Love B x

The Finishing Line

20 04 2012

In 48 hours time, I will be taking my place amongst 50,199 other runners on the start line for the Virgin London Marathon 2012.  This day has come around far too quickly and although I am looking forward to it, I also feel very nervous although I’m sure that is a good thing – it is safe to say, I’m not underestimating the challenge that is ahead of me!  A very wise friend of mine (and also a veteran marathon and ultra-marathon runner himself) said to me “if you wait to be ready, you’ll never get to the start line”.

I went to the London Marathon Expo at the Excel Centre in London on Wednesday.  What strucked me was the sheer variety of people at the event.  Not only the age range (the oldest person running this year is 101, the youngest is 18) but also clearly the variety of walks of life that runners are coming from.  I sat and watched people come and go for a while, there were city boys clearly on their lunch breaks just popping in to grab their runner numbers, mums pushing buggies, couples, families, people all sport-kitted up and individuals like me who looked a bit nervous, a little bit apprehensive and very wide-eyed!

The expo was interesting, there were lots of different exhibitors there ranging from Sweatshop (I picked up a stock of my favourite Torq gels), Cliff nutrition, other marathons, charities like Mencap and stands from the marathon sponsors.  At the heart of the expo there was a stage, I caught a talk about pacing and an interview with Iwan Thomas (who is running the marathon too).  Overall, it was quite a nice event to go to but I was glad that I chose to go on the first day as it was quite quiet and manageable – I dread to think how it will be today and tomorrow!

Here’s my runners number – be sure to keep an eye out for me on race day.  Apparently you can track me online from 0700 on Sunday…please don’t be amazed at how slow I am!

It has been a long journey (although it has flown by) to get myself here.  They do say the biggest challenge is getting to the start line and for those who do, most will finish.  So, the title of this blog post is my nod to the fact that actually the finishing line is now in sight!

So, for all the early mornings and late nights, for all the miles I’ve run, kgs of pasta I’ve consumed, litres of water I’ve drunk, blisters I’ve drained (yuck!!), weight I’ve lost, fitness I’ve gained, books on marathons/running I’ve read, miles I’ve cried through, physio/sports massage sessions I’ve endured, people I’ve spoken to about Downs Syndrome and most importantly for all the money I’ve raised (thankyou!)…there are just 26.2 miles left to go.  For now!

As I write, my fundraising has pushed over £1700 – that is a huge amount and I am incredibly grateful to all of you who have supported me – it’s a great motivator and I will be clinging on to that when the miles get tough on Sunday.

The final countdown really has started now – and for the record…I really don’t want to see any form of carbohydrates for at least a week after the race!


B x

7 days to go!

14 04 2012

Just seven days left until the marathon is upon us!  This blog has been quiet as it has been a very busy month; I’ve just been on board HMS Express for a few weeks and have been from Wales to Ireland and then along the Cornish coast to Portsmouth.  On the way, I discovered the benefits of needing/wanting to run when we got into a new port – you get to see all sorts of places that you wouldn’t usually, a kind of ‘running tourism’.  I cracked several runs out which mostly felt fine and only had slight twinges in my hamstring.  The most beautiful of which was probably in Falmouth when I ran up past Pendennis Castle and around the headland in bright sunshine.  This week I will be tapering and preparing for the weekend whilst trying to keep my nerves in check!

I’m at home in West Sussex now and will stay here until after the race.  On Thursday the Marathon Expo starts in London so a day trip will be in order to go and pick up my race number.

I must say thank you so much to all of you for your support and motivation over the last few months, particularly for those of you who have sponsored me – it really does mean a huge amount!  If you have any songs, quotes or marathon tips that might help me – please let me know!!

If you haven’t already, and would still like to, please consider sponsoring me at Virgin Money Giving, every pound counts and will help the DSA to continue to provide the brilliant support to even more families across the UK.

I’ll give you a pre-race update later this week…in the meantime, I’ll try to stop having nightmares about turning up on the start line with no shoes on!!

Beckie x

Silverstone Half Marathon

21 03 2012

It has been such a busy few weeks that I haven’t even had time to sit and write about the half marathon!

I headed up to stay with Rob, Anne-Clare and the boys on the Saturday morning before the race and it was a lovely day – slightly overcast but perfect running weather.  ‘Long may it last’ we thought.  Sunday morning came round and it was hot! You’d never have believed we were about to run in March, it felt far more like mid-Summer.

On went the running kit (including my new fancy watch…great time to try it out for the first time!), race number was pinned on and the final mid-morning snack was consumed.  Silverstone Half has a really annoying start time of 12 midday.  Too late to just fuel up at breakfast but too early to be able to fit lunch in as well.

Just time for a quick photo before we headed off to the race, luckily, Rob and A-C live just around the corner so it took about ten minutes to get there.

The race start was delayed a bit ‘due to traffic’ but it only ended up being about 5 minutes late.  There were 10,000 runners so it was pretty busy and we took our places in the groups according to estimated finish times.

By the time we kicked off, it was the hottest part of the day and running on tarmac meant that it was reflecting straight back up into your face as well.  Not particularly nice!

The race itself was really fun, apart from struggling to get used to the heat (I have been training in a Welsh winter after all!) and finding I really needed a loo-stop at about mile 7-9 (finally gave in at mile 9 and nipped in to the loos at the side of the track!).  Annoyingly, there didn’t seem to be much water around the route but there was Lucozade which I have never drunk before and didn’t want to start then.  At mile 11, I gave in to thirst and grabbed a bottle of Lucozade, which promptly made me feel very ill and didn’t stay in my stomach very long after the race! (Too much info? Good!).

The track itself was interesting the first time around, but then even though the route didn’t cover the exact same track three times, it did take you past places you’ve already seen so wasn’t the most interesting race.  The people were fun to run with though and I did enjoy the half marathon distance.

I was aiming for a 02hrs 11mins time (roughly 10min/mile) but I was slower than planned on a couple of the middle-later miles and came in at 02hrs 26 mins.  Still, pleased it was under 02hrs 30….only slightly annoyed that I didn’t push through the heat as well as I could have done – lesson learnt: hydration is key!!

Rob smashed his race and came in at 01hrs 59mins. Speedy!  We headed back home with achy legs and even a bit of sunburn!

The photos from the race are now up (Surname: Saunders, Bib no: 7377, Race: adidas Silverstone Half Marathon 2012), none are particularly flattering or attractive, not sure why they need to have quite so many photographers on the course.  Something about posterity…

Anyway, have had a busy week or so since, including spending the weekend away with URNU and OTC on Sennybridge which has resulted in a grade two tear of my hamstring and tendons behind my knee, we don’t think it was anything in particular that caused it, just a mixture of a bit of weakness combined with some rough terrain – it could have gone at any point though!  Physio has said he’d normally advise 2-3 weeks off running and 6-8 weeks to heal.  I said I have the marathon in 5 weeks!  So am having lots of physio this week, swimming and then back to running this weekend hopefully.  Am dosing up on brufen to keep the swelling down and lots of ice!

Fingers crossed for quick healing everyone please!!