Max’s heartfelt piece will leave you feeling proud of the Reach community
“For the first time I feel I have a reason to talk about my arm and to feel that I am not on my own:” Max Swinhoe
“I re-joined Reach several months ago and already I’ve gotten rid of the cardigan and sock that I covered my arm with for 31 years.”
“I am not just doing it for myself but for Reach children, their parents and fellow Reach adults. I was shy but my arm has been a huge motivator. I have great parents, a great family, was never bullied as a child, but now I realise the thing I missed was that person in front of me withan upper limb difference to say that difference was fine.
“I realise now how important representation is. Now when I walk down the High Street I can be that person showing able bodied people and people with disabilities that I am just a normal person. I want to help Reach children find confidence in their own skin.
“We are starting to see more disabled people on screen. Representation is so important, and I never realised how important it was until now.”
Max said she took a prosthetic hand to school but didn’t use it. “I just wanted to blend in, and I felt that my prosthetic made me stick out, and because I can’t bend my elbow, it just never looked natural for me.”
The first time she came across negativity was when she inquired about joining the Army and was told she would not be able to fire a weapon. “I was 17 and to be told you can’t do a job was quite tough. I then decided to do English and Journalism at university in Winchester and now I am a freelance copywriter.
“In my first year at university I struggled with anxiety. I was seriously thinking about amputation so my arm would look more ‘normal’ and easier for everyone to accept but I am really glad I didn’t do that.
“I found out about Paralympic try-outs and tried lots of different sports and ironically was quite good at shooting. I enjoyed it but I was struggling with being shy and one of the youngest so in the end I decided not to go that route.
“In my second year my anxiety lessened, and I met Tom. Eleven and a half years on, we are married, have had lots of adventures and hope to have many more.”
Max and Tom backpacked across America, Central and South America, and then spent a year living and working Australia, before setting off again to New Zealand, followed by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Kayaking on the Mekong was followed by an 18-day trek to Everest Base Camp. A spell in England geared them up for the Appalachian Trail across 14 states. “Walking 20 miles a day for five months was the most brutal thing I have ever done,” she said. “It taught me I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Max is still self-conscious about her arm, having good and bad days. “Sometimes I feel like it’s my role to make other people feel comfortable about my arm. Then I think why should I be the one to do that? But I believe being born with a limb difference has made me a more empathetic and sensitive person and it definitely motivates me to overcome challenges.
“I re-joined Reach because I wanted to do some fundraising. I never expected it to help me so much in such a short space of time. I am super grateful to Reach.
“I took part in Limb Loss Awareness Month and seeing how many new members there were helped me realise how many people there were with a limb difference – that it was not just me.
“I realised the worst thing was that people would see my arm, and that someone staring was not going to hurt me. That if I could be a bit brave and go out there and show my arm for the little ones being born now, then hopefully they don’t have to hide their arms in their sleeve for 31 years like I did.”
“Being involved in Reach as a child is brilliant. As a teenager I don’t think you realise how important those friends you made as a child are and will be. You might feel you don’t need it, but it is still important for the parents still to be involved. I never realised what a huge support it would be for a child, let alone a parent. It’s such a brilliant charity that makes a very real difference to lives every day. And now I can offer insight because I am not a parent.
Read the entire Within Reach here: https://reach.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/WithinReach-Spring-2021-V5-Interactive-compressed-compressed.pdf
Watch Max’s journey to self acceptance here: