Maisie’s life-changing Children in Need challenge
In November 2018, Maisie reached the end of a gruelling journey. Along with five other inspiring young people, she cycled the 423 miles from Calais to Salford Quays to raise money for the Children in Need Rickshaw Challenge. It’s a journey that changed her life.
We caught up with Maisie to find out more about her amazing adventure and what life has been like since waving goodbye to the rickshaw.
“Children in Need have given so much to me”
Maisie was born with achondroplasia. This is a rare genetic condition that causes poor bone growth, resulting in shorter arms and legs. It’s also known as dwarfism and means that Maisie is much shorter than other people of her age.
Growing up with achondroplasia is difficult for many reasons. Aside from the painful operations she had to undergo, Maisie’s condition also made her “visibly different to other people.” “It was a struggle making friends and fitting in,” she recalls. She explains how she would try to keep up with friends and classmates when she was younger, and how she found it “disappointing” when she simply couldn’t.
At four years old, Maisie joined the Dwarf Sports Association (DSA) which is part-funded by Children in Need, and she credits it for helping her to realise what she can and can’t do. “They welcomed me and showed me what I am capable of and what I can achieve, without judgement,” she explains. The DSA was a space where Maisie felt supported and was able to test out her limitations and get used to the adaptations she needed at home and at school. The DSA community was also an inspiration to Maisie – they taught her that she can achieve whatever she wants.
So, when Maisie was approached to take part in the Rickshaw Challenge she leapt at the opportunity to give back: “The DSA have given so much to me and therefore Children in Need have given so much to me,” she explains, “so my first response was ‘Oh my goodness, yes!’”
“You weren’t riding for yourself”
Despite her excitement and the cycling training that she had completed in the run-up to the big event, Maisie admits that she was still nervous about getting started. “I was scared,” she says, “but the fact that I was doing it for so many people batted away any difficulties I had.”
The rickshaw that Maisie drove in 2018 had been provided and adapted by McLaren so that she could ride it comfortably, but even so “being on a big bike with a massive rickshaw on the back was quite a shock!” she admits.
The most challenging thing about the journey (“apart from the hills,” she jokes) was the toll it took emotionally – being on camera and “presenting yourself in the best way possible.” She didn’t want to hide how hard the challenge was, but being positive all the time was emotionally draining. There was also the accountability: “You weren’t riding for yourself. You were riding for every team member and every story you’ve heard.” Maisie says she dealt with the pressure by “channelling that struggle into going faster.”
A firm believer in the power of talking, whenever Maisie sensed she was at risk of feeling low on the journey, she would chat to her “incredible” teammates about how she felt. “It’s so important to talk to other people,” Maisie insists, “The fact that you’re addressing the issues that you face means they’re not as big as you think they are.”
The highlight of the challenge, and what kept the team going the whole 423 miles, was the recognition and support that they received along the way via social media and the crowds that turned up to cheer them on. It was affirmation that they really were making a difference.
“It was incredible to be able to show other dwarfs how I’ve dealt with things,” she says, “and I hope that, in some way, this helps them.”
“Before rickshaw I wasn’t open about my emotions”
A year later, Maisie is now at college, studying towards her A-levels, and says that life since the rickshaw has been “incredible.” She has grown in confidence and now feels more open about her emotions.
“I was open about my disability before,” she says, “but I never really said how it was making me feel or that it was hard. To be able to start to open up, to show how I was feeling, to be able to connect more with the people watching was a really powerful experience.”
Her time on TV also awoke a new passion in Maisie and she is now planning to study media at university. “I would love to be a presenter,” she shares, “or work in finding stories about people who are different and showcase them. It’s so powerful for each different group to see their own story represented.”
It’s clear that Maisie’s journey has really only just begun and it started, she says, with the realisation that she was never going to fit in. Quoting Dr Seuss, she says:
Why fit in when you were born to stand out?
And we couldn’t agree more.