The memory of meeting Jo for the first time is still vivid in my mind. She was part of a group of friends who had signed up for a beginner's lesson in stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). As per our standard procedure, I checked the participants' consent forms to ensure they had no health or fitness issues that could pose a problem during the lesson. That's when I noticed something different about Jo's form—it mentioned a prosthetic leg. Despite scanning the group, I couldn't spot anything unusual about anyone's limbs. I approached Jo discreetly to discuss her situation before we began, and she assured me that she was comfortable giving it a try. I was impressed by Jo's unassuming demeanour and eagerness to participate in the lesson alongside her friends. Kudos to her!

During the lesson, Jo appeared to be coping reasonably well, but it was apparent that she was struggling with her confidence, and her prosthetic limb was affecting her balance and stability. It wasn't until after the session that I learned the true extent of Jo's injury. She had undergone a below-knee amputation on her left leg and had no sensation in that limb due to nerve damage. As a result, she also experienced severe balance issues. 

After the SUP lesson, I realised that Jo needed help improving her balance and stability. I came up with the idea of offering her balance conditioning sessions on land, with the goal of preparing her for the water. To achieve this, I used an Indo Board, a balance trainer commonly used by professional surfers and athletes. 

What started as a simple idea soon turned into a more complex project. However, I saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with Jo, learn from her, and offer support in a way that could benefit other leg amputees in the future.

During our sessions, we discovered that Jo's body had adapted to compensate for her injury over the past 17 years. However, this adaptation had caused her body to be misaligned, with the left side slightly off-kilter, and the right-side overcompensating to maintain balance. We began with simple toe alignments to align Jo's hips, but this initially caused severe dizziness. Nevertheless, Jo's body and brain adapted quickly to this simple step, and we continued with more advanced exercises.

Next, we moved on to testing Jo's weight distribution by using the board on a balance cushion. I knew from experience that when standing on the water, you need to constantly adjust your weight distribution to adapt to the dynamic conditions of the weather and water. We started with simple exercises to get Jo's body accustomed to putting weight on her prosthetic and shifting between her toes and heels. While these exercises were straightforward, Jo's brain still reacted with dizziness at first. Nevertheless, she overcame this with time and continued to progress in her training.

We began in an area where Jo had previously struggled to maintain balance while on her knees. After several months of practice, we decided to put Jo's training to the test and see if it had improved her balance in the water. To our delight, we were able to keep Jo stable on her knees and even transition to her feet. This was a significant accomplishment and a testament to the hard work Jo had put in during her training.

Although we know there is work to be done, Jo's progress has been truly remarkable, and we couldn't be prouder of her. Looking ahead, Jo now has a new prosthetic leg that is suitable for water activities. During our conversations, Jo had expressed concerns about damaging her other prosthetic if it got wet, which had previously affected her confidence and mindset in the water. With the new leg, we hope to further improve Jo's confidence and help her continue to make progress in the water.

A word From Jo:

“I came to Ebb and Flo with friends and met Toni who has helped me immensely with confidence and self-belief. " 

“The work Toni puts in with me has helped me regain some control of my balance and lifted my mood keeping me off my medication and also helping me find a new love of the beach and sea and I have confidence to go out paddleboarding with just one friend now instead of a huge group, she understands the way the body works normally and has spent time learning how my body reacts to different situations which has been an invaluable learning curve for me as well.”

“When I first started I had absolutely no confidence and was always looking to the worst case scenario and then panicking that it would happen and I would be in trouble, now following the hours of work physically and mentally with Toni and her never ending patience and passion, I am confident that although my technique is far from perfect and my body does not react the same way as everyone else’s I can go out on the water and enjoy it in my own way.”

“I would never have dreamed 5 years ago that I would be paddleboarding, enjoying it and not only going out in Summer but in Winter too. I believe that I would still be leading a sedate lifestyle if I had not found Toni and her faith in me. I am far more mobile and feel ready to take on more challenges now due to the time I spend with Toni, she is so positive and calm and the best person to be teaching me.”

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