Nicola Fowler: How running changed me forever
If you fall down, the best thing to do is to try to pick yourself back up again.
That’s the advice of Nicola Fowler, whose inspiring running story is proof of the huge benefits that sport and physical activity can have.
Based in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, Nicola has had mild cerebral palsy since birth and has held a lifelong love of sport close.
She first took part in gymnastics and rugby at a young age before being inspired by a 'Discover Your Gold' UK Sport advert to get active again.
She chose to do this through running, first just a mile or two on her own, before stepping out with her sister to a local parkrun where she discovered Bridlington Road Runners.
Ever since, Nicola’s love for running has just grown and grown and her message is simple: just do it!
“I tried years ago to run and I kept falling, and I still do, but it doesn’t matter, you just get up and go again,” Nicola said.
“Just go and have a try, what’s the worst that can happen? If you don’t like the people you join or you don’t like the sport you just don’t go again and you try something new.
“You might go running and find it great, you might not. You might try football or swimming or something else.
“I think running has been amazing because I didn’t realise how far I could go.”
Nicola has never looked back since joining the Road Runners, thriving in the welcoming, all-ability environment which it promotes.
But more important than just the club itself has been the feeling which running has given Nicola.
Not only has it helped her get fitter but running has also given her a whole range of mental and emotional benefits, from helping her confidence to taking her away from her struggles and providing a feeling of accomplishment.
Through lockdown Nicola has particularly struggled to keep her mind occupied but running, and the Road Runners’ many online events from virtual relays to ‘Beat the Mile’ challenges, has provided peace of mind.
She added: “I do struggle with my mental health sometimes and obviously like everyone I’ve had my down moments this year, and it’s really helped.
“I’ve just thought ‘I’ve got to get out there’ even if it’s just a mile, and just get out there and clear my head.
“It’s made me feel fitter physically but mentally it’s just done so much for me especially in the past year.
“It makes you run your thoughts out of your head, and also you’ve got to concentrate. You’ve got to think about people on the pavements and cross roads.
“It’s filled in a lot of time, that 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes three times a week is filled in. I do struggle with getting other hobbies because of my fine motor skills so to go and do something I can do is really important.
“We are so lucky around here, we’ve got the seaside and to run down the cliffs on a beautiful sunny day is just breath-taking at times.
“It can be very windy but again it’s a battle, you’re not battling your thoughts, you’re battling the wind or the rain.”
And, along the way, Nicola has also documented her running journey through her blog: called Paranicruns.
Serving as a means to discuss her love for sport and running in particular, Nicola’s blog also has another very important purpose: to show others that the benefits of sport can be accessed by anyone.
“My blog is here to show that the ordinary person can do something,” Nicola said. “It isn’t about winning medals, which is great, it’s about the ordinary person getting lots of benefits out of it.
“When I was little there wasn’t many people to aspire to and it’s great to see all these people winning Olympic and Paralympic medals but also other people do it for different reasons like mental health.
“When I was turning 28, I was a Games Maker during the London 2012 Paralympics helping spectators at the wheelchair basketball inspiring kids of all ages and abilities. This is in stark contrast to when I was aged five to ten and there wasn’t anybody to aspire to. We had Tanni [Grey-Thompson] and David Weir and that was about it and the thing was they were in wheelchairs, I’m not in a wheelchair.
“I decided that I wanted to tell people of my generation that it’s not too late. And also the Mums and Dads of the younger ones should have the opportunity, to inspire people sounds corny but I don’t know how to describe it.”