"How my Life has been Transformed by the FlexxiCore Challenger" by Alison Lapper MBE
Published in Positive Health Magazine issue 239 - July 2017
How my Life has been Transformed by the FlexxiCore Challenger
by Alison Lapper MBE
I am a 52 years old Mouth and Foot Painting Artist, infamous for Mark Quinn’s Trafalgar Square, Fourth Plinth statue, depicting me as disabled, pregnant and naked. As a child born with limb deformities in 1965 in Burton-on- Trent, Staffordshire, the doctors told my mother that she should not see me as I was ugly and going to die.
Subsequently, she was hospitalized due to depression and did not see me until I was much older. To make matters more difficult I had a birth mark, now much faded, from my forehead to my chin. I was initially placed into an old people’s home for six weeks, as there was chickenpox at Chailey Heritage Craft School and Hospital in East Sussex to which I was then transferred. I spent the first 17 years of my life at Chailey.
During that time, I and others experienced the full range of care, from the kindest to the most sadistic. There was no such thing as a Children’s Charter in those days and to have complained would have been to invite even worse treatment from some of our ‘carers’. I worked my way up to Head Girl by the age of 15 but, due to having to have a major operation, my studies were interrupted. Despite all, I managed to pass examinations in Biology, Domestic Science and Art before I left.
I then moved to Banstead Place Assessment Centre for the Disabled where I remained for two years. It was thought that I could never live independently. Somehow I saved to purchase my first car. This was before the time of Motability. A most kind teacher, Morag Cornwall, found the money from various charities to adapt that car so that I could drive it. As a matter of necessity, I passed my driving test at the first attempt. This enabled me to move to London and attend the Hammersmith and West London College to study A Level Art. I got my own flat in Shepherds Bush thanks to an architect friend, Colin Smart, and began to live independently.
Throughout this time I had only two forms of formal exercise; swimming and trampolining. Until the age of 17 I had swum for my school and could have gone on to train for the Paralympics. However, I wanted to pursue art so moved in that direction and lost the chance of regular swimming exercise. I walked a lot until I was 35 when I began to find it necessary to use a wheelchair following the birth of my only son, Parys. He is very special to me.
In 1993 I graduated with a first-class honours degree in fine art from Brighton University. In 2003 I received an MBE for services to art. Mark Quinn sculpted me for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2004. In 2005 I received the World Achievement Award presented to me by Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, and several other awards since*. During all this time I have been very busy but, clearly, exercise has not been number one on my list of things to do.
My Discovery and Use of the FlexxiCore Challenger
As soon as I saw the FlexxiCore Challenger I realized that I needed it to exercise in order to revitalize my body. I acquired it just before Christmas, 2015.
At first I could only use it at the slowest speed for a very short time and required someone to support me as I could not balance. Within two weeks I was up to speed 3 and could balance on it alone but only for 2 to 4 minutes as I had no strength to stand for any longer. By Christmas I was up to speed 4 and standing alone for 5 to 10 minutes. By February 2016 I was able to use the machine on Automatic (variable speed vibration and oscillation) by myself for 10 minutes at a time, sometimes twice a day. This pattern continues. I generally feel so much better. I am definitely using muscles in my legs and lower back that I had forgotten about.
My regular masseuse says that my muscles are easier to soften, that she can work more deeply into them and that she can give me a much more satisfactory massage. I am much more supple than I used to be. It is now easier for me to get into and out of chairs, my bed and my driving seat. It is more comfortable to drive and I feel as if I am sitting higher in the driving seat. I have more stamina to do what needs to be done, e.g. travel to Manchester by train for radio or television appearances. I recently drove to Colchester from Shoreham in 2½ hours and arrived feeling fresh for a day’s filming. I am finding it much easier to cope with day-to-day living.
My Current Health and Future Plans
For the first time in my life the muscles in my abdomen feel firm. I believe that there has been an improvement in my cardiovascular state although it is difficult to tell precisely because it is not possible to use a blood pressure monitor on my body. My level of energy and ability to engage in work is significantly improved. Together with photographer Rankin, I co-presented a BBC4 documentary called, No Body’s Perfect. This required a great amount of stamina on my part and, since being able to exercise regularly on the Challenger, I found that I had greater reserves of energy.
Recently I completed my first solo documentary on the artist and poet William Blake, a man who knew adversity in his life. He was an independent and bloody minded visionary, who would have been better suited to the twenty-first rather than the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was possessed of great wisdom as well as wonderful artistic, poetic and lithographic talent. To prepare this film I had to make two journeys to Paris involving early morning departures from Kings Cross and Ashford in Kent, take part in a full day’s filming and make a same day return home. This was such a gruelling schedule that I could never have completed it had I not been able to exercise on my FlexxiCore Challenger. For the immediate future I am very keen to do more work on documentaries of all kinds, not necessarily to do with disability or even art. I also work with children with different abilities, either learning or physical, teaching them to paint with their mouths or their feet, in addition to children in academies, senior and junior schools.
My intention is to continue to use the FlexxiCore Challenger twice a day, if work permits. Without it, I know my health would definitely deteriorate at a faster rate. My ability to transfer from sitting to standing, to move to my vehicle, to climb in and out of the driving seat and complete long journeys would not be possible without this regular exercise. I have no hesitation in recommending the Flexxicore Challenger to everybody of all ages and abilities, particularly to those who have difficulty exercising.
* The Outsiders Award I received in 2006 was for my artwork around sexuality and disability. The Life Award I received in 2007 from Germany was for success despite adversity. There has been so much more besides since then. The World Artists Award for art specializing in the body beautiful, no matter what, was awarded to me in 2014. Also in that year, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Brighton for my contribution to the arts and being an ambassador for those with disabilities. I am a full member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World (MFPA) who produce original artwork for Christmas and other greeting cards.