Para-canoeist Hope Gordon: 'After my amputation I felt like I could do whatever I wanted'

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Hope Gordon - I crowd funded to amputate my leg

When Hope Gordon was 12, she was your average, active child.

She played sport, was a member of a pipe band, did highland dancing and rode her horse at home in the Highlands of Scotland.

Then one day life changed as suddenly her leg just stopped working.

Through 10 years of mostly futile treatments, she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). It is a condition that has no cure, and critically for those with it, it is against NHS guidelines to amputate any affected limb.

The pain was so severe, even for something like having a duvet on her leg at night. But after years in agony, Hope found a doctor who would carry out the procedure privately. To undergo surgery, she managed to raise £10,000 through crowdfunding.

Since her operation in 2016, Hope has represented Scotland in swimming but it is her switch in the last 12 months to Para-canoeing that led to her breakthrough on the international stage. Now the 24-year-old is heading to her first World Championships in Hungary.

'I didn't realise it was going to be a permanent thing'

Hope's life changed forever at band practice when she was 12.

"During school, my leg basically stopped working," she recalls. "I didn't realise it was going to be a permanent thing. I've not walked naturally since.

"I went from being able to do anything I wanted to not being able to walk within the space of a day.

"After a lot of failed treatments and years of agony, being stuck in hospital for weeks at a time, I elected to have my leg amputated."

Hope came to this decision at the age of 14, but such are the complexities of CRPS, this went against the advice of doctors. The rationale was that pain could spread elsewhere, even if her leg was amputated.

Life in a wheelchair became a constant struggle. Most teenage girls would relish a shopping trip, but Hope would worry that someone may accidentally brush her leg and cause her further pain.

Hope's mother, Rona, says: "They treated her for growing pains and tried putting her on different machines, but it got worse and worse.

"Her leg changed colour. It would go orange or purple or almost clear. She could not cope with anything touching it at all.

"She couldn't even lie in bed properly. She had to have pillows under her knee and could not have covers on her leg.

"How she got up, went to school, did her swimming and continued to pipe with the band on an hour and a half's sleep, I don't know how she did it."

Despite her constant requests, Hope could not have her leg amputated. As a result, she sought out one of the few private surgeons in the country who would agree to carry out the procedure. The main snag was the £10,000 cost.

"I just set up a crowdfunding page and shared it on social media," explains Hope. "The support I had was just unreal.

"The biggest donation came from somebody in America," Rona adds. "We have no clue who they are. The locals were very supportive and a lot [of money] came from people who just saw her story."

Para-canoeist Hope Gordon
After trying to reach the 2016 Paralympics and two Commonwealth Games as a swimmer, Gordon has now switched to Para-canoeing

'Everybody tells me I look like a new person'

On 2 August 2016, Hope's left leg was amputated above the knee.

There was no guarantee that the surgery would end the suffering she had endured throughout her teenage years. But it worked.

"My quality of life has gone through the roof," Hope says.

"It's like night and day. Everybody tells me I look like a new person. After my amputation, I felt like I could do whatever I wanted."

Hours after coming round, Hope was smiling and laughing, using the sick bowl as a hat and, for the first time in years, she was able to lie in bed with the covers on.

Within a day she was doing sit-ups and press ups, targeting a place on the Scotland swimming team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Having missed out for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and the Rio Paralympics two years later, Hope also failed to gain selection for the Gold Coast.

But her sporting path changed when she was forwarded an email from two-time Paralympic swimmer turned Para-canoeist Charlotte Henshaw. It was an advert looking for new talented athletes and by pure chance, Hope fell into one of the categories they wanted.

'It's quite a special environment'

Soon after graduating from Edinburgh Napier University, Hope impressed at trials and was invited to become part of the full-time programme with British Canoeing last summer.

She says the hardest part of the transition from swimming to Para-canoeing was having too much rest, so intense can the 200m sprint distance be.

In her first two international competitions in 2019, Hope finished fourth on her debut at the European Championships and fourth in her maiden World Cup race in Poland. Next up are the World Championships in the Hungarian city of Szeged.

"I'm not going to the World Championships expecting to medal," she says. "I want to enjoy it and put down the best race I can.

"Everybody is looking for those top six places to get the boat qualified for Tokyo [2020 Paralympics]. That's what these World Championships are about."

The World Championships will provide another first for the Gordon family.

It will be the first time Hope's parents have actually seen her compete after Storm Hannah postponed the British trials in April, which meant they had to fly back to Scotland on the Monday instead of watching Hope race.

Regardless of her performance this week, Hope has paid tribute to the team in Nottingham and her fellow athletes as she completes her first year as a full-time athlete.

"It's been amazing," she concludes. "I've never been in a set-up quite like this. It's a special environment.

"There's so much talent and it's really sped up my progression having so much experience around me.

"I'm still quite young in the sport, so hopefully I can be around for quite a while."

The 2019 Para-canoe World Championships take place in Szeged, Hungary on 21-25 August.

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