Last weekend, Jessi, who has cerebral palsy, walked 100 metres in a walking frame to raise funds for Starlight.
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that specifically affects Jessi’s mobility and, in her case, causes painful muscle spasms. These spasms have been strong enough to partially dislocate her hip and often leave her bent over in pain. Despite everything Jessi has gone through she remains a very determined and remarkable young woman.
Whilst 100 metres might not sound like the most mammoth of distances, it was certainly a stretch for Jessi who has never walked for anything other than physiotherapy purposes before. Jessi decided to take on the challenge for Starlight because we granted her wish to meet actress Keira Knightley seven and a half years ago which has had a profound impact on her life.
The impact of my wish was not just the day it was granted; it’s something I’ve carried with me ever since and it inspired me to continue my education. Seven and a half years after my wish has been granted, it still makes a difference to me – it made me realise I still had something to offer the world. If you’d told my eighteen-year-old self I would be doing a PhD now I would have laughed because of the level of discomfort I was in.
In 2009, Jessi was referred for a wish by her teaching assistant who was so impressed by how Jessi managed her pain while studying for her GCSEs. Jessi decided that more than anything she would like to meet Keira Knightley who helped her during some of her worst times while she was stuck at home and unable to turn pages to read, as well as dealing with the grief surrounding the loss of dear friends. Jessi would watch the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira on a loop; she describes it as her ‘comfort story’.
Fast forward five months and Jessi and her mum were arriving at the Comedy Theatre in London’s West End to watch Keira Knightley in a performance of The Misanthrope. After the show, Jessi’s wish came true as she met Keira in the foyer of the theatre.
The two spent 25 minutes together and Jessi described Keira as “so down to earth and completely lovely”. Jessi even found out that they had the same favourite book, War and Peace, and Keira encouraged Jessi to pursue her dream of going to university to read English and Theatre.
Jessi went on to do just that, and one degree and two masters later, Jessi is now at the University of Warwick completing her PhD in disability casting conventions in the theatre.
I had expected to do the walk in about an hour, based on my speed during training, but I ended up doing an official time of 9mins 16secs, which was a lovely surprise! I think it had a lot to do with the atmosphere being so incredibly supportive, and watching everybody else do things that were similarly stretching for them – I just couldn’t help but move fast because I was so inspired. At times, it felt like my feet were moving on their own, almost second nature, which is a sensation I’ve never experienced before. Usually every step takes a noticeable amount of effort.
Jessi completed her 100 metres challenge as part of Parallel London at the iconic Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Sunday 3 September. She walked in her frame alongside her mum, Bev Chambers, and was delighted by her official time of 9minutes and 16seconds!
So far, Jessi has raised £730.96! If you would like to sponsor Jessi, head to her JustGiving page.