People are so kind, says NI Paralympian as new chair changes life
A Paralympic athlete from Co Antrim who travelled to Rio as part of Team GB has been able to give her mum her first "eye-level" hug in years, thanks to a £7,000 wheelchair funded by the community.
Larne woman Claire Taggart, who was the first person from Northern Ireland to play boccia for Team GB, suffers from the painful muscle condition dystonia, which has left her unable to stand or walk.
With her only wheelchair causing discomfort when used for long periods, the 22-year-old and her mum Maggie set about fundraising for a state-of-the-art Quantum 2.0 iLevel chair.
Its cutting-edge technology enables Claire to stretch her muscles by tilting back 50 degrees, rises up to eye-level to allow full participation in conversations, and gives her more independence.
"This chair has changed my quality of life," she said.
"It has been six years since I have been able to stand up and hug my mum, but when we collected the chair I was able to rise up and hug her at eye-level, which meant a lot to her.
"Dystonia makes my muscles very tight and sore, but the new chair enables me to get into a comfortable position.
"Being able to rise up to eye-level is very important, as before people were literally looking down on me. Any chair that doesn't rise up makes you feel a bit isolated. This makes it easier to interact socially and have conversations, which makes me more confident, and means I don't have a sore neck from looking up at people.
"On a practical level, it also makes it easier to reach things in shops.
"My friends are all enjoying their independence, and I want to have that freedom too."
Claire launched a JustGiving fundraising account on Valentine's Day, and was overwhelmed to reach her target just four months later.
"People have been amazingly generous," she added.
"We even had one anonymous donor who donated £1,000 to the page, which is insane!
"The community in the Larne area rallied round, with table quizzes, fundraising nights and people raising money by running marathons and races. I will never be able to thank them enough."
Claire, who is planning to travel to Spain for the Boccia International Sports Federation Seville World Open at the end of July, ultimately hopes to be selected for Team GB's boccia squad for the Tokyo Paralympics 2020. In the meantime, she is training hard and keeping in touch with famous friends.
"I'm in contact with people from the Rio boccia team and I'm good friends with Bethany Firth," Claire said.
"I'm hoping to go to Tokyo, but I'm just taking each competition at a time."