• Wednesday, October 05, 2022

HEALTH

Multiple sclerosis and magic of motor sport

STANDING STRONG: Anji Silva-Vadgama

By: PRIYA MULJI

HOW ANJI SILVA-VADGAMA OVERCAME DISABILITY TO RACE AHEAD

MULTIPLE sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common causes of disability in younger adults and with a wide range of potential symptoms such as problems with vision, movement, sensation and balance, a diagnosis can be devastating.

Anji Silva-Vadgama unexpectedly got diagnosed in 2019 with the lifelong condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, which is two to three times more common in women than men. Instead of being defeated by it, the head business development manager from Northamptonshire joined an all-disabled racing car team and now has her sights set on competing at the iconic Le Mans 24-hours race.

Aside from following in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was a rally driving champion in Africa, she has also embarked on an IVF journey with her wife.

Eastern Eye caught up with Anji to discuss her challenging journey from getting an MS diagnosis to racing car driver dream.

When did you get the MS diagnosis and how did you feel?
My GP was the first person that told me I had MS on December 4, 2018. I didn’t really know much about it to be honest, but I was told that there was a reason behind what I was feeling. I suffered with a horrible pain in the back on my right eye, along with pins and needles in my arms and legs, but more on the left side of my body. Then after seeing the neurologist, they confirmed my GP’s diagnosis of MS. I tried to stay positive, but I’m only human and there were a few days that got me feeling really down.

What are the main ways having MS impacted your life?
Having to adapt to using a walking stick and a wheelchair was a massive change, as I am a very sporty person. Along with having two dogs, I had to learn that I can’t walk unaided, which made my independence go as well as my confidence in driving.

What led you to joining a racing team?
(Smiles) It’s in my blood. My grandad was the winner of the first ever off-road Safari Rally race in Tanzania in the 1950s, and my father, who is now retired, had his own car garage. So, I’ve been around cars all my life. I never considered racing and the idea seemed even more impossible with my MS diagnosis, but one day I saw a TV piece on Team BRIT and what was possible. I visited for a track day at Silverstone in September and received great feedback from the team’s driver coach.

What happened next?
I returned to the track at Donnington Park in October and was offered a place on the team’s rookie development programme. The team has developed some of the world’s most advanced hand control technology to enable disabled drivers to compete on equal terms, which is amazing.

What is it about racing that you love?
It’s helped to boost my confidence not only on the road, but also gave me something different and unique to focus on.

What has the whole experience of being part of a racing team been like?
They have been like family, and to share a bond not only in wanting to race cars, but also a disability, it’s definitely an eyeopener.

How would you describe the feeling of speeding around a racetrack?
There is definitely a lot of adrenaline rushing through you, but also the feeling of being invincible and uncatchable.

Do your family and partner support your racing aspirations?
One hundred per cent. My wife is always by my side, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, and my family are supporting when and where they can.

How are you preparing for the Le Mans race?
Lots of training, not only physically but mentally as well.

Tell us about the team you are working with and how does it feel?
The team is great and has moved up the ranks, which is what I’m hoping to do. It also feels great to be part of the Team Brit family. It’s a long journey, but I am determined.

How have you balanced your MS diagnosis with racing?
The same as I balance it with everyday life. Take a day at a time and try and keep as positive and motivated as I can.

How different is it for a racing car driver with a disability versus regular racing?
It goes down to the disability of the individual. But the car has been adapted to have all the controls on the steering wheel. This allows drivers who have no leg movement to use the steering wheel only. Or like myself, as I have limited movement in my left leg, I will use the foot acceleration till I can along with the hand brake on the steering wheel.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do the same?
Don’t give up, and keep trying. If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.

What inspires you?
The thing that inspires me is to be able to show that a disability doesn’t define who you are, and we are capable of doing whatever we put our minds too.

Eastern Eye

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