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Jodie’s resilient to the core

By Heather Large | Features | Published:

When Jodie Millard was just 14 a freak trampolining accident at school revealed she had a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer.

Four months of chemotherapy to treat the osteosarcoma tumour in her right leg followed but when that proved unsuccessful, doctors gave the teenager an unenviable choice.

She could undergo rotationplasty, where the remaining lower section of her right leg is rotated before being reattached to the healthy upper section – but this would rule out playing sports as well as looking very unsightly.

The second option was to remove the tumour by amputating her leg. It’s a decision no one would want to make but Jodie’s lifelong passion for sport and physical activity made the latter option a surprisingly easy choice.

She underwent the life-changing surgery in 2014 and the teenager, who has been working as a healthcare assistant, has battled back to fitness using specialist exercise programmes.

For the last two years she has been attending Portway Lifestyle Centre in Oldbury, run by Sandwell Leisure Trust (SLT) where she has attained fitness standards that would enable her to compete at elite Para-Sports level.

With her all the way has been instructor Scott Parish, who is both well qualified and experienced in training people with disabilities – and the two have established a remarkable bond based on mutual trust and respect and a desire to really challenge physical and mental boundaries.

“Pretty soon after the amputation I was playing one of my favourite sports in badminton again and then I began attending Selly Oak Rehabilitation Centre regularly for my prosthetics, but the travelling became a problem and my physiotherapist told me about Portway Lifestyle Centre and that it had great feedback from other prosthetic users. It was right on the doorstep too and had a less clinical feel to it for me.

“Portway felt right straight from the start and although my first activity using a limb incorporating a prosthetic knee joint (aka the blade) took a bit of getting used to as it’s designed specifically for running, I quickly made great strides with Scott and was even going to Cosford Athletics Arena for sprint training and also the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham for canoeing trials.

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“By then my fitness levels and body composition had changed dramatically and Scott reckons I could have done either sport competitively, but again travel time and costs, plus study and work commitments were an issue – and I’ve now decided to concentrate on a career in the medical sector after a hugely enjoyable stint as a healthcare assistant.

“My gym sessions three to four times a week at Portway will always continue, as it always uplifts my mood and keeps me staying positive plus Scott and I are doing some more out-of-the-box thinking in our sessions to see how far we can go with things,” says Jodie.

The 19-year-old is full of praise for her instructor at Portway, which is a centre of excellence for people with disabilities.

“Scott’s been an absolute rock and I owe him so much. Not only has he pushed me to the hardest fitness levels possible with a highly personalised plan geared totally towards my needs, but he’s really helped with my confidence and emotional strength too, as I initially had anxiety issues about being in new places and around new faces.

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“With his care and attention I’ve really come out of my shell and now enjoy working out with other disabled and able-bodied members alike, especially on the Synergy 360 gym station where we all motivate one other and gain inspiration from each other’s achievements. The distraction also makes you pay less attention to the muscle burn and keeps the training fresh, fun and less of a chore.

“Scott encouraging and pushing me in all ways has also opened up new avenues and opportunities and now – apart from my regular gym workouts and one-to-one sessions with Scott – I’m looking to join in some of the other classes like Spin, which has got some really good feedback from other amputees that attend Portway.

“I’m not surprised at all, because SLT has been amazing to me with all the staff very welcoming, eager to help and nothing too much trouble. They strive to make you feel at home and are flexible and really adjust to your needs and state of mind.”

Scott adds: “Jodie has been an absolute pleasure to work with and despite the fact she had lost her sense of self and perspective when we started, I felt an inner strength and resilience and almost subdued determination to get stronger and better in the aftermath of such traumatic circumstances.

“Building a professional relationship requires empathy and real concern for your client’s best interests and it has to be sincere, so once mutual trust is established you can make real progress and Jodie’s mind, body and character have become much stronger and her ability to manage her pain threshold is an obvious adaptation from her training.

“We started with functional and core strength training utilising equipment and movements that would help her transition from a seated wheelchair position to standing, in preparation for the arrival of her first prosthetic.

“Remedial exercises that mimic movement patterns wake up the nervous system and help the body to stabilise during locomotion and gait – and our multiple direction (tri-planar) training quickly improved Jodie’s strength, stability, balance and coordination.

“The hydro pool here at Portway has also been enormously beneficial to Jodie because apart from replicating walking movements and aiding performance it also assists recovery – there is less toll on the body with regards to gravity, so the support, hydrostatic pressure and warmer temperatures mean you can really push on and achieve so much more,” adds Scott, 36, of Wolverhampton, who has worked at Portway for six years.

Four months ago Jodie received a new state-of-the-art prosthetic leg, which has finally become available via the NHS and she says it has given her another boost.

“The C-leg, as it’s called, is very similar to the new limbs received by soldiers who have lost legs in bomb blasts. With a built-in microprocessor it’s the best available in terms of technologically advanced functions and is safer, more dynamic and much closer to a natural walking pattern.

“It’s given me a new lease of life as unlike the previous one it allows me to do extra cardio work in the gym on the bike and treadmill, plus Scott’s helping me with the skill sets and adaptations required – as your brain and body have to learn to use the new limb as an extension of yourself.”

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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