Stroke survivor walked 29 km through the Lake District with her gym friendship group to beat isolation

A Blackpool stroke survivor has walked 29 km to raise money for the Stroke Association, after they helped her cope with Aphasia – a speech condition that affects one in three people after having a stroke.

Jane Williams was fit and healthy when she had a minor stroke in 2021. It left her with a condition called Aphasia, which causes speech problems and affects one in three stroke survivors.

When the Stroke Association helped her to understand it, she wanted to give something back.

Jane, a retired fire prevention manager from Thornton, was a healthy 55 year old when she had her stroke.

Jane Williams and her group of friends from The Studio Gym in Thornton walked 29 miles in the Lake District ultra challenge to raise money for Stroke Association

She said: “It was totally out of the blue. I couldn’t feel my arm and then struggled to speak and then a minute later it was gone.”

Jane went A&E, but was given some aspirin and sent home after 4 1/2 hours. She was referred to a stroke consultant, who confirmed that she had a stroke. But then she said that she felt like she had ‘fallen into a black hole’.

She said “I was just left on my own really. I didn’t know what was happening to my head and I kept getting words mixed up. After three months I came across the Stroke Association and they told me all about Aphasia. They explained it’s the brain’s way of remapping, words get thrown in the air and don’t always get the right word when it lands. It’s a recovery phase. But a lot of people who have had strokes don’t even know the help is there.”

Jane, who lives on Rowland Lane with husband David, was shocked by the prognosis.

left to right - back row Lisa England, Gillian West, Katrina Yang, Elizabeth Warburton,Theresa Prescott-Jones, Jane Williams (me!), Bev Yates, Sara Skarbek Wazynski (my daughter), Andrea Smith Left to right -front row Sarah Clarkson, Helen Brady, Katie McCarron.

“it frightened the life out of me, and my husband didn’t leave my side for the first month. You don’t think it will ever happen to you. I didn’t smoke, and hardly ever drank. I was doing everything right so it felt unfair that it had happened to me.”

In March 2022, Jane retired from her job with the Lancashire Fire and Rescue service, to focus on herself.

“I loved everything about my job but when this happened I had to stop and reevaluate. You never know how long you’ve got, and I had to reassess what was important.”

She still often feels tired easily, and thinks there needs to be more understanding around the invisible illness.

“If you’ve got a broken arm people can see it, but they don’t realise if you’re struggling with a brain injury. To look at me you wouldn’t know I’d had a stroke, which can be hard because you’re not given any leighway.”

Aphasia can affect a person’s ability to speak, read, write and use numbers, but it does not affect intellect.

People with aphasia often feel lonely and isolated too, which can impact their relationships.

But Jane has made a conscious effort to maintain her social connections with fellow fitness enthusiasts.

She’d been attending boot camp and pilates classes at The Studio Gym in Thornton, where she’d built a solid friendship group.

And she couldn’t wait to be back in the gym.

“It can feel isolating having a brain injury. There are times when I really don’t feel like going out but it's about speaking to people, and having a reason to get dressed and you don’t feel like you have to be alone.”

And when her twelve exercise buddies saw how much the Stroke Association had helped their friend, they were eager to band together to help the charity.

So they trained together, and went on regular walks to prepare for the Kendal to Ambleside ultra challenge.

“This was really about meeting up and having a chat to keep each other going.”

The twelve friends walked 29 km in the Lake District on 10 June 2022, and walked for 8.5 hours, finishing up in Ambleside.

Her daughter, Sara Skarbek Wazynski, also walked along side.

“It took us eight and a half hours, and we all had blisters on blisters by the end.

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We all struggled at times, but we kept each other going. I couldn’t have done it alone and I still can’t believe I’ve done it.”

The group raised £3,200 for the charity. Jane said it was windy at the tops and we went up some huge hills, but the weather was kind to them.

“It’s an achievement even when you're well. My husband was worried about me doing the walk but he’s so proud of me too.”

The Stroke Association surveyed over 2,000 people and found that nearly half of the respondents (43 %) in the North West can’t imagine living in a world where they couldn’t communicate. A world without communication is an everyday reality for the 350,000 stroke survivors in the UK living with aphasia.

For many of this group, communication methods including phones, reading, and speaking in person, are either a challenge or impossible to use.

Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association said:

“Aphasia is incredibly common after stroke. It robs you of the ability to talk to loved ones, to do everyday tasks such as go shopping, use public services or get online - things we all take for granted. People with aphasia often feel lonely and isolated too, which can impact their relationships.

“But there is hope and the brain can recover and adapt. Stroke survivors with aphasia can make improvements as well as developing alternative ways of communicating.

“It’s also incredibly important for the public to be aware of what aphasia is, the things to look out for and to learn strategies that might help those with aphasia living in their community. We all have a part to play in adapting our communication to be inclusive for all.”

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