We love connecting with customers and often get tagged on social media by people who are using and loving our gripping aids. One such person to tag us is Georgia Carmichael.
Georgia had been using our Small Item Gripping Aid whilst in hospital to aid with her personal care as well as to embrace her creative side. However, we were soon to discover that this was not Georgia’s first rehab rodeo. In fact, over the past 6 years she had gone through more ups and downs than most people would in their entire lives. From record breaking kayaking conquests to earth shattering medical diagnoses, Georgia’s journey has been one like no other.
This is her story…
As a child growing up in Buckinghamshire, Georgia had two loves – animals and sports. Her list of pets included dogs, cats, lambs and ducks. The latter is especially fitting as, much like her feathered friends, Georgia felt most at home when she was on the water.
A Rising Star
Inspired by watching the 2012 Olympics team train locally, Georgia got into kayaking at just 10 years old. She instantly fell in love with the sport and dreamed of competing at the Olympics herself. Georgia is naturally gifted on the water. She even became the youngest person ever to be selected for the GB team, at just 13 years old.
Georgia trained constantly and it wasn’t long before she was competing all over the world. She made her World Championship debut in 2017 at the age of just 15. Going in as an underdog, Georgia came out of the event with 2 gold medals. This cemented her place as one of the rising stars of kayaking. She went on to compete at the Europeans, Junior Olympics and World Cup. Georgia was winning medals and setting records along the way. Her Olympic dream was fast looking like a reality.
However, a seemingly innocuous head injury that same year would change Georgia’s life forever. This injury started her on a vicious cycle of setbacks and recovery.
Georgia spent 11 months in hospital…
Initially believing it to be a harmless bump on the head that had happened during a fall in the school changing rooms, Georgia was soon getting searing headaches and chronic fatigue. Unable to get a concrete diagnosis, she was in and out of hospital trying to get her symptoms under control. However, no sooner had she begun to deal with this, she suffered another fall and knock to the head. The second fall leaving her with a much more pronounced and traumatic brain injury. An 11 month stay in hospital saw Georgia learning to talk, eat and move all over again.
Miraculously, Georgia made a full recovery. After almost a year in hospital, she returned home and immediately got back in her kayak:
“I was back in my kayak before I could even walk. Although I went through a major setback at 16, I wasn’t going to let it deter me from my dreams; I went on to recover and reclaim my 7 national titles as well as achieving a GB record.”
By the time she was 19, Georgia was studying physiotherapy at university, training multiple times a week, and was firmly on the path to the Olympics. That is, until a white water kayaking accident in 2021 saw her once again fighting for her life. This time, on top of complex neurological issues, Georgia was left paralysed from the waist down. After another year rehabilitating in hospital and coming to terms with her injuries, she returned home. Determined to get back on the water and refusing to give up on her Olympic dream, she turned to para-rowing. It wasn’t long before she was selected for the GB para-rowing program. Paris 2024 was in her sight:
“I first got involved with GB para-rowing as a way to get back on the water during my rehabilitation after the kayak accident and I quickly fell in love with it. Being back on the water made all the tough times seem so worth it and I couldn’t stop smiling. I began training regularly and being back in that competitive environment felt like home to me[…]The way the sport can be adapted for so many different disabilities is just incredible.”
A Spinal Stroke, and a Diagnosis
However, earlier this year, in yet another horribly cruel turn of events, Georgia suffered a C4/5 spinal stroke. She was back in intensive care, her family desperate to get to the bottom of the spate of health issues that had plagued her for the last 6 years. Eventually they received the devastating news – Georgia had mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes, aka MELAS. This rare, complex and incurable disease progressively affects many of the body’s systems, including the brain, nervous system and muscles.
Coming to terms with this, on top of a high level spinal injury, would be enough to break even the most resolute spirits. Georgia admits having “dark moments” where she questioned how much longer she could continue to fight. But Georgia’s journey has always been about defying the odds and she refuses to let her diagnosis define her:
“For me, when times are tough and I need motivation I remember that feeling of crossing the World Championship finish line when I was 15, or when I first got back in my boat after the brain injury. It’s a feeling I will fight to feel again. But also, I am surrounded by incredible people who continue to remind me why I am still fighting. And of course, being an athlete and extremely stubborn means I definitely don’t back down without a fight!”
Out of intensive care and now on the rehab ward, Georgia’s first fight would be with finger function. Her spinal stroke had left her with very little hand movement. Even the simplest of tasks were now a challenge. Writing, typing and painting were all a frustrating struggle. The inability to grip the likes of cutlery, a toothbrush and a hairbrush meant she needed help with feeding and personal care. In physio, she struggled to grip resistance bands and weights. Georgia worried about the impact this would have on her upper limb rehabilitation.
That’s when someone suggested she try Active Hands.
…And that’s when Georgia found us!
Strapping the General Purpose Gripping Aids around her hands, Georgia was now able to maintain a firm grip on the weights and resistance bands she had previously struggled with. Using these every day in physio meant she was able to get the most out of her rehab. This lead to a rapid increase in her upper limb strength. It wasn’t long before her competitive nature returned. Georgia was soon strapping her hands to the exercise bike and pushing her limits!
Outside of physio, Georgia began using the Small Item Gripping Aid to tap back into her creative side; often spending her time sat up in bed with a pen, pencil or paintbrush in hand. She used it to brush her teeth and also to feed herself, meaning she was able to eat meals alongside her friends and family again. Being able to take back control in this way provided her with a huge confidence boost.
When her friends and family weren’t there, she was able to stay in touch with them by using the Sixth Digit 2 to scroll and send messages on her phone. Not only that, but she was able to use them to type on her laptop and eventually recommence her studies.
“These aids help me to get the best out of my physio but also improve my daily life by enabling me to do things for myself again which, without the Active Hands products, I would not be able to do.”
Combined with her drive and determination, Georgia has been able to use her Active Hands products to build up her strength and regain a level of independence that seemed lost. Georgia left hospital, discharged, just a few weeks ago. She knows that the real fight begins now she is home.
The complexity of Georgia’s condition means there is a lot of uncertainty on what the future holds. Not one to dwell on what ifs though, she instead prefers to focus on what she can control. Georgia is spending time with her loved ones, both human and pet, whilst continuing to fight each and every day. The GB para-rowing community continues to support her on her journey to get back on the water and she is in regular contact with the coaches. Georgia has already practised holding and moving the oars with her General Purpose Gripping Aids, we doubt it will be long before she is back in her natural habitat!
“My long term goal and something that really drives me forwards is getting back into the GB para-rowing team and of course the Paralympics. Active Hand products will make a huge difference to my ability to get back into rowing again as well as the gym. Your products are incredible!”