“Life is to be experienced, enjoyed, and lived to the best of our own ability.” This is the inspiring message from Colleen Ashby on International Day of People with a Disability.
Colleen is a heart transplant recipient who lives with vision impairment. She received a life-saving heart transplant in 2017, but things didn’t quite go to plan, and she spent 4 days on life support. Colleen recalls, “When I woke up and they asked how I was, I said, ‘Good, but I can’t see’. It had never happened before.” Colleen had lost 96% of her vision, but that wasn’t going to hold her back.
Fast forward to 2023 and Colleen has represented Australia in two World Transplant Games winning multiple gold medals in swimming and has recently discovered a new love of tandem cycling.
“I found tandem cycling by accident when I agreed to participate in a fundraiser for heart and lung research,” says Colleen. “The first time I got on a bike and met my pilot was on the morning of a 34km ride! We had a quick practice in the car park and then we were off.”
Colleen had planned to only cycle to the 20km mark but once she reached it, she was surprised to learn that she was the first to arrive.
“When I found out we were in first I said to my pilot ‘let’s go’. I was determined to make it all the way and to get there first so that is exactly what we did.”
From that first race Colleen fell in love with tandem cycling but it hasn’t always been easy.
“My main challenge is transport. There’s no public transport where I live so I’m reliant on friends and family to get around,” says Colleen.
Despite these challenges she rides between 30-60km each weekend and has found an amazing community of tandem cyclists.
“When you have a disability, it can be hard to find a community where you truly fit in,” says Colleen. “With tandem cycling there’s an amazing sense of camaraderie and I’ve formed some amazing friendships. I feel like I’ve found my tribe with my tandem riding group.”
This International Day of People with a Disability we’d like to celebrate the achievements and contributions of the 4.4 million Australians with a disability and reflect on the work that still needs to be done to increase public awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people with a disability.