So my friends, why walking sticks, why Neo Walk?
Well if you had asked me 10 years ago what I wanted to do, I would have said open my own super chic hair salon. I was a newly qualified dreamy eyed hairdresser with visions of big bouncy blow dries and perfect pin-up perms. I loved the creativity and colour, and working with my hands. So I guess the foundations for Neo Walk were laid down then. I still have a great passion for all things hair and I love working on anyone that will let me! Although I do come with a few disclaimers now ie. don’t blame me, you asked for it. Pay me with food.
So when 2007 delivered my 40th birthday and a catastrophic MRSA infection during knee surgery, let me say it was hardly the bottle of Chanel I had hoped for. So began my road to the here and now, my different world of prosthetics and mobility aids, and holy crap what a dull grey world it was I had stumbled into. There was no colour or style, or anything to suggest I looked in a mirror before I left the house. There was nothing to reflect my passion for fashion and very quickly I felt about 90 years old.
I researched and bought some acrylic rods, and behind closed doors, in my little kitchen oven one dark evening, my first walking stick was born! It was a great feeling, and I felt proud straight away. My method was a bit slipshod and random, but you couldn’t argue with the result. The first ones I made were just for me, with no thought of setting up a business. But the effect was immediate. Lots of people stopped me and asked where I got them, I’d love one of those, how much are they, wow you look amazing. The seed of a business was soon sown, I was hooked, I could feel the magic of using these sticks and I wanted to share it. Enter Neo Walk and the Neo Walk effect. Watch out, I was going to take over the disability aids world with colour and style. This is still my aim, to let everyone know there are stylish choices out there just for us.
I know from the wonderful messages I get from many other Neo Walkers that this happened to them too. That’s why when you buy one you get a stack of business cards to keep in your pocket for when people ask you! Here is a sample of but a few….
I just received a clear stick for Christmas and my whole take on being a stick user has shifted. Thank you for giving me new confidence. Johanna
Massive thank you for a funky stick that will brighten up my day every day. Louise
Gorgeous sticks, they make having MS worthwhile. Jane
Thanks for making me feel beautifully accessorised on my birthday. Helen
What beautiful sticks! At last someone who realises that sticks should be beautiful to look at as well as functional. Janet
My stick arrived today and its fantastic. Colourful, sturdy and stylish, its like a contemporary work of art. I can’t thank you enough. Claire
So I sat and thought about exactly what was happening to me and all of you when we picked up what was essentially a piece of plastic.What was going on.
I smiled and I glowed – people smiled back at my glow and said I looked fab.
I walked confidently, head held high – people saw that confidence and looked me in the eye.
They spoke to me rather than looked at me with pity. They spoke to me, the person, not the person defined by their disability. They saw me winning not struggling. People didn’t seem to care why I was using a stick, they were just impressed. Confidence, smile, glow, winning, impressed. All words I hadn’t associated with myself for a long while.
Once me and Mr Neo Walk were sat outside our local cafe in France and we heard a couple of new Irish accents on the next table. Keen to make friends we chatted, hit it off and arranged more coffee the following week. Due to an unscheduled prosthetic appointment I had to postpone. The texts went like this.
Me : Hi Patricia, sorry I can’t make it tomorrow, I have to pick up a new leg. Is Thursday OK instead? xx
Patricia : Who is this?????
During our caffeine fuelled chat, Patricia hadn’t noticed I was in a wheelchair, and she hadn’t noticed I only had one leg. All she had seen was me and my confident glow. To me that’s a huge complement, but I know to other people it’s as much an insult not to have your disability acknowledged. But I am not defined by mine, it’s just a small part of me, I’m good with it. Plus I get to make fun of her Irishness forever so it’s all good.
It’s an interesting question though, what do you see first when you look at a disabled person. Do you see their disability or their ability? What they have or what they haven’t got. What they offer or their limitations. Bearing in mind you know nothing about them until they speak or communicate with you. You are already assuming a persona for them like you know who they are. That’s why some people assume I’m stupid because I’m sat in a wheelchair! Bad but true. Yet I consider myself lucky, I have a very visible disability.(unless your name is Patricia!) For people suffering from a chronic invisible illness it’s a whole different challenge to make yourself seen and I suppose believed.
Finally, most recently I was privileged to create a beautiful walking stick in memory of a gentleman’s mum who had died. The design incorporated a small amount of her ashes, and an engraved handle saying ‘with me every step’. As a multiple Neo Walk stick owner already, he felt he could trust me to make something he could use that was also a fitting tribute to someone he loved dearly. It was such an honour to be asked and brought tears to my eyes when I read his message.
I want all of you to know I love my job and I feel so grateful to be allowed into your lives when you share your frustrations, hopes and stories with me. It’s been 7 years now, and the movement out there for inclusive fashion and design for disability has snowballed. I hope to be at the front of it and part of it for a long time to come.
Much love as always,