My ability is bigger than my disability - Isis' story

From being diagnosed with cerebral palsy to breaking world records, Isis Holt has had a different upbringing to most teenagers.
Isis Holt is not your average teenager. 

At 18, she’s already a world champion sprinter and a two-time Paralympic silver medallist. 

To put it simply, she’s a star. 

But Isis knows that success and hard work are not always the winning formula for positive mental health.

“There were definitely times where I’d be in the middle of doing exams or a really intense training block and I’d be like, ‘I can’t deal with anything because everything is happening at once,” she says. 

There’s the pressure of teachers and your peers, as well, wanting to do well with schoolwork, but also make friends that can stick around, and be socially accepted.

Isis lives with cerebral palsy, after being diagnosed at 11 years old – although she has never seen this as an obstacle to reaching her goals. 
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"My ability is bigger than my disability," she says.

She adopted this mantra around the time she started running, when she came to realise that her disability did not define her. 

“Until then, I was never keen to get involved in any form of competitive sport because I was so used to coming last.

“When I got involved in para sport, I realised it was this whole environment of empowering individuals based on what they could do, not what their disability was, and I loved that. At 14, that was really exciting.”

When the pressure of study, sport and life in general converged, Isis was able to overcome these moments of doubt through her support networks.

Ironically, it was training that proved a key outlet for releasing the pressure valve.

“Having something to focus all of your attention on makes such a huge difference. It was important to find something that consumed my attention and direct my effort somewhere else, away from school.”

Isis has developed an appreciation for the importance of mental health, and the catalyst for this mindset can be traced. 

“I think my first experience ever talking about anything to do with how I actually felt about something was always in a team environment,” she says. 

“It was the older athletes who were coming up to me and being like, ‘So how are you going?”

It was an eye opener for the teenager, and it has clearly rubbed off on her. 

“I’ve become better at talking about my own mental health. I know how awful it is to have to sit there and feel like you have to deal with something by yourself,” she says. 

“No matter where you’re at in your life, it’s never unacceptable to say you need help with something, or that you’re struggling.”

Isis is unsure whether she’ll be competing at Tokyo in 2020. For now, she is focusing on finishing Year 12. Whatever her decision, she’ll always be able to draw on her experiences on the race track.

“It reminds you of the things you have done and what you can do, rather than everything that you think you can’t.”

Paralympics Australia is a Community Partner of Beyond Blue.
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