Anoushé Husain is a public speaker, civil servant and paraclimber refusing to let any barriers get in her way. Born missing her right arm below the elbow and experiencing multiple health conditions throughout her life, Anoushé shares her story and teaches us a valuable lesson in determination.
Photo: Jessie Leong, with thanks to The This Girl Can Campaign & British Mountaineering Council
I tried climbing for the first time as an 8-year-old on a school trip and got up half a wall. I didn't think it was anything to write home about, but my teacher was crying, she didn't expect me to reach that far. I was a pretty weak girl and missing my right arm below the elbow. At 13 I had another climb, this time, I found it exhilarating, the instructor was showing me a belief I didn't have in myself and I was thriving on it. I wanted to take up the sport properly but I was still facing barriers, I'm a girl, not strong, missing an arm, a Muslim, climbing really isn't for me.
I was pretty involved with martial arts anyway so I let it be. I didn't know many friends who climbed and so had no real role model to follow. I grew up, injuries and ill health came along and then cancer. I went from being a competitive martial artist trying to get on the national team to barely being able to walk a few hundred metres without being out of breath or in a lot of pain. It was a very dark place, I had lost a sport I loved, I had lost my health and even though I knew when treatment would end, I didn't know how I was going to get on my feet again or if I even wanted to.
My good arm had been impacted by treatment and surgeries and I was having trouble doing basic tasks. I needed to find a way to get it strong again, one of my close friends; a climber suggested I try out climbing as a way of strengthening myself. Me, climbing? A girl, Muslim, one hand and with all the health issues that have taken place? Plus I was worried about how I would look; I'm not very body confident.
My friend asked me what was stopping me? The wall won't care what I look like or who I am. If I'm doing the sport for me, then I shouldn't care what others might or might not think. Chances are anyway, they'll be worried about the same things. As for my strength and arms, we will start slow. My friend reminded me that I was new, so don't expect to be good. If the sport makes me happy then I'll want to do more and I'll improve with time.
I started climbing, every few months to start with. I was scared, nervous, but I had no reason not to try. I moved to London 3 years ago and started climbing again last year at Castle after a break. I was nervous about trying a new place but I've never found a more inclusive centre than them. I've been a competitive swimmer, martial artist and cricket player. Starting a new sport from scratch was frankly something I never imagined I would need to do. I've found friends, I feel so much more body confident, I like how I can move better, I’m stronger. The staff are always around to give tips and tricks, they have watched as in a year I've gone from being a complete amateur to now being ranked 2nd in the UK in my disability category. The Castle has become my home and climbing my escape from the world. On the wall I get to forget I'm different, I'm just a climber, like everyone else.
All the barriers I thought existed for this sport actually don't. Not only that, it has given me the ability to practice a physical activity on my terms, taking into account my health issues. There is something there for everyone. Above all, climbing has taught me how to believe in myself again and that has carried over into my life.