Alive and kicking... and telling the world

2016-04-17 09:00:00

Joan Latta has been in Spain this week to fulfil two speaking engagements: one at the Mayfair Academy and one at the English International College.
There, this young woman from the village of Fakenham, near Cambridge in the UK, provided youngsters with the perfect example of what can be achieved when you put your mind to it, especially when faced with considerable obstacles.
Joan has cerebral palsy as a result of being starved of oxygen at birth for 28 minutes. Doctors fought to give her life and on resuscitation, informed her mother that she was unlikely to survive. That Joan is alive and thriving today is a tribute to her mother.
As a baby, Joan couldn’t stand, walk, sit up and even worse, couldn’t eat or swallow, being tube fed for the first four months of her life. Her mother taught her how to eat and swallow through perseverance. Joan underwent extensive therapy in her formative years - occupational, physiotherapy - anything that would help to strengthen her body.
She attended school just as any normal student rather than a special school as she didn’t want to be treated differently. She loved learning, and with her mother driving her on, she completed her GCSEs before advancing to A-Levels.
After a year, she left school to continue her education at a local college, where she obtained a BTEC in Health and Social Care, graduating with the top grade available - a triple distinction star.
While doing her GCSEs, she also won a bursary from Nuffield under the heading of “Science for Young Learners”. For four months she worked alongside PhD students and genetic scientists, studying cleft lips and palates, which involved lots of cell counting and analysis of data. At the end of her bursary term, she was awarded Nuffield’s Gold Medal award.
Joan is currently studying psychology via distance learning with the Open University. She does this part-time as she also has a full-time job. Joan is now a young entrepreneur.
Two years ago she set up her own business, Cerebral Palsy: Alive and Kicking. Through her website, contacts and plenty of initiative, Joan works as a speaker, travelling to schools, universities, societies and clubs to talk about her life. It is this venture that brought her to the Costa del Sol this week.
“I had a job for a year,” she said. “It was covering a maternity contract so when it finished, I lost my job. It sent me into a real depression.” It was something quite small that helped her to start to turn things round.
“I saw a robin with only one wing and I thought that if it could survive, then so could I. I have a lot of stories to tell therefore I have something to say,” she explained.
Her aim now is to motivate and inspire other sufferers, as well as to educate the able-bodied.
“Educating the able-bodied to understand and be more accepting of others’ conditions is important, as is motivating other sufferers to achieve things that they never thought possible,” said Joan.
She sets a good example. She does have some balance and mobility issues but it didn’t stop her walking the entire UK Southwest coastal path - all 240 miles of it. She did it with her mum and dad and it took them ten weeks.
“There were days when I wanted to give up but my mum urged me on and I am so glad she did.”
Joan has also run 18 miles in less than four hours which is more than the average able-bodied person has managed.
“It was a local race,” she said. “My mother runs so she started training me a kilometre at a time. I felt fantastic when I completed the run and it served to confirm that you can accomplish great things if you persevere. When I get back home, I’m going to take up cycling,” she added.
It is this perseverance, instilled in her by her mother that continues to drive her.
In addition to her physical and business achievements, Joan is also quite a writer and at 23 years of age, has already written three books: one is a thriller for teenagers entitled Halloween Night; one about a six-week trip she took across Canada by train; and the third, yet to be published, is the story of her training for her 18-mile run.
“Writing is a hobby I love,” she commented, “and speaking is my living.”
Currently she is working with the University of East Anglia as an associate tutor, talking to healthcare students. Joan is also a young ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, talking about how the Trust helped her to set up her business. She was runner-up in the 2015 Business Enterprise Award.
“You learn lessons in life,” she said, “and you learn what is important. Disability helps you to realise what in life it’s important to be grateful for.”
Wise words for a head on relatively young shoulders.source surinenglish