True stories of how sport has enriched and improved the lives of five

Being active not only helps us control our weight, reduce our risk to numerous illnesses and strenghten our muscles, it can also support us when fighting mental health problems, diminishing stress and tackling loneliness.

To better understand how partaking in sport and staying active can benefit lives physically, mentally and socially, we asked people with truly fascinating stories to tell us both why and how sport has positively impacted them for the greater.

Illustrator Ste Johnson then gave these words the depth and motion they deserve, by producing five complementing illustrations. Scroll down to see the inspirational stories of these five individuals who refuse to let their age or disability restrain them.

The story of burn survivor Sylvia Mac, who after 45 years stopped hiding and came out in the open with her scars.

Sylvia Mac has spent most of her life trying to conceal the scars that cover her body – the legacy of a childhood accident. After years of hiding and battling with mental illness, she has completely turned her life around through her love for swimming whilst in turn inspiring others with her website Love Disfigure. Sylvia finds that sport mentally takes her to a happier place and allows her to feel ‘normal’ again. For Sylvia swimming feels therapeutic; it enables her to get lost in deep thoughts which she was otherwise unable to do before discovering the pool.

‘’The smell of swimming pools is a smell that I love and [it] brings back lots of good memories even though I have some bad ones. I like to think that most of my happiness away from my sadness was found in the water. To be burned by boiling water and yet to learn to love the water to swim and embrace has made me want to help others enjoy those moments as I do.’’ 

Wheelchair tennis champ Suzanne talks about her incredible journey to a better mental and physical well-being.

Suzanne became a wheelchair user seven years ago as a result of an accident whilst abroad. She always thought that after her accident she would never meet anyone or have children, but she has found being around people with similar injuries has positively influenced her. Playing tennis has boosted her confidence and Suzanne now has an open-minded, focused and optimistic outlook on the future, her goals and life in general.

‘’I really was in a bad place before I started playing [tennis] – I honestly didn’t know what the future would hold for me and I found it so hard to look forward to it. I am now trying to focus on the present and to enjoy the journey that I’m on.’’

The oldest British woman to take part in an ironman triathlon shares her inspiration and motivation for keeping fit.

At 74 years old, Eddie still frequently participates in triathlons, making her Britain’s oldest female triathlete. She encourages everyone to join in as she believes it is a great energiser and confidence booster. She feels so relaxed and comfortable when partaking in sporting activities and is very grateful for all the opportunities and positive experiences it has brought to her life.

‘’I want to encourage other women to get the fun out of sport and exercise that I have had. There should be more focus on older people and the health and social benefits associated with doing sports. It’s not to get us oldies living longer, but to enable us to live life to the fullest, independently and happily.’’

Avid cricketer Alison shows us that a learning disability doesn’t have to stop people finding focus and trying new things.

A learning disability can sometimes make it extremely difficult for someone to stay focussed, which can be a real challenge for people living with such learning difficulties. Alison, who herself has learning disabilities, has demonstrated that doing sports and specifically playing cricket can be tremendously helpful in her becoming more motivated, driven and open to taking on new challenges. Not only has cricket put her in a much happier place, it has also inspired her to give back to others as she now volunteers to teach the sport to the homeless and people with mental health problems.

‘’Cricket has provided me with a new thirst for life. It really has turned my life around completely and has put me in a much happier place. I’m really looking forward to what’s in store for me!’’

How doing sports for 40+ years can change attitudes and combat loneliness. Val proves that doing sports really is great for us physically and emotionally.

It has kept her young over the years and she believes it has prevented her from falling ill. Not only does she find doing sports very enjoyable and sociable, it also keeps her on a constant high and makes her feel less lonely; thus enhancing her whole life, breaking barriers, and showing her the way forward.

‘’Sports gives me a new passion in life. It gives us a reason for being there. I think I would feel lost without playing table tennis and badminton – it really enlightens my everyday life and I feel so grateful for it.’’

We all know that being physically active is good for our bodies. But our physical health and mental health are closely linked, consequently the health benefits of becoming more physically active are even more significant. Therefore, at Better we provide opportunities and access to facilities for everyone – no matter your age, ability or background – to encourage people to join in and help them enjoy the countless benefits of doing sports.