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Boxing and swimming sessions take brain injured former show jumper a step closer to her dream of walking again

PUBLISHED: 17:31 27 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:46 27 February 2019

Excel 2000 founder Penny Bevan Jones with former show jumper Caroline Mansford, who has been helped by water-based sessions run by the charity and boxercise classes led by former British and European boxing champion Jon Thaxton.
Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Excel 2000 founder Penny Bevan Jones with former show jumper Caroline Mansford, who has been helped by water-based sessions run by the charity and boxercise classes led by former British and European boxing champion Jon Thaxton. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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A former show jumper who was left unable to speak or walk after sustaining a devastating brain injury in a riding accident is a step closer to realising her dream of getting back in the saddle, after taking part in boxing classes and swimming sessions run by two Norfolk good causes.

Former show jumper Caroline Mansford (centre, back), taking part in a water-based fitness session run by Sheringham-based charity Excel 2000.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLFormer show jumper Caroline Mansford (centre, back), taking part in a water-based fitness session run by Sheringham-based charity Excel 2000. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Lifelong animal lover Caroline Mansford, who lives at Cawston, near Aylsham, took up horse riding at the age of 11 and went on to win dozens of rosettes and trophies in county show jumping and cross country events.

After leaving school, she carved a career as a self-employed horse trainer and ended up with clients from all over the county on her books.

Excel 2000 founder Penny Bevan Jones with former show jumper Caroline Mansford, who has been helped by water-based sessions run by the charity and boxercise classes led by former British and European boxing champion Jon Thaxton.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLExcel 2000 founder Penny Bevan Jones with former show jumper Caroline Mansford, who has been helped by water-based sessions run by the charity and boxercise classes led by former British and European boxing champion Jon Thaxton. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

However, while out riding five years ago, her horse stumbled and she was thrown forwards, landing on her head.

“I was taking the horse over a jump and it ended up on top of me,” she explained.

Former show jumper Caroline Mansford in action before the accident which left her unable to walk. Photo: CAROLINE MANSFORDFormer show jumper Caroline Mansford in action before the accident which left her unable to walk. Photo: CAROLINE MANSFORD

Rushed to Addenbrooks Hospital suffering from a brain haemorrhage, Ms Mansford was in a coma for five weeks and, when she regained consciousness, found she had only limited movement and was unable to speak.

“It was hell,” she said. “I didn’t want to spend my life in a wheelchair.”

After weeks in hospital, Ms Mansford, 46, was sent for rehabilitation at the neurological unit at the Colman Hospital, Norwich, and, after a spell being cared for by a close friend, returned to live with her parents, who now look after with the help of a team of support workers.

As well as having to learn to speak again and train herself to write with her left hand, Ms Mansford has had to come to terms with relying on a wheelchair to get around.

However, determined to remain positive and regain her independence, she paid privately for physiotherapy and has seen a marked improvement in her mobility since signing up for boxing classes with community interest company Able2B - which supports children and adults with disabilities - and joining water-based exercise sessions run by Penny Bevan Jones, who is the founder of Sheringham-based wellbeing charity Excel 2000.

Ms Manford, who also takes her dog Fudge for regular walks in her wheelchair, is now pinning her hopes on botox treatment and an operation to relax the frozen muscles in her arm and leg.

“What I want to do is to walk again,” she said. “But I still love horse riding and, although I’ve been out with Riding for the Disabled, for someone who is used to show jumping, it’s so slow it’s horrendous.”

Fitness club helps adults and children with disabilities build strength and self-confidence

Able2B, which was set up in 2016 by retired British and European boxing champion Jon Thaxton and consultant orthopaedic surgeon Rachael Hutchinson, aims to help children and adults with disabilities build confidence and improve their fitness, muscle strength and concentration.

Classes, which are run at a specially kitted out gym in Gilchrist Road, Norwich, include adapted Pilates sessions, fitness classes for children and adults with disabilities and one-to-one sessions.

The community interest company, which has won the Active Norfolk award for services to disability in sport in both 2017 and 2018, also supports children and adults with autism or learning difficulties, as well as offering sessions to carers, deaf and partially sighted people and those recovering from heart attack or stroke.

For class times, or more information, visit the Able2Be Facebook page or www.able2b.co.uk

Wellbeing charity aims to combat loneliness and isolation with fitness classes and social opportunities

Excel 2000, which was set up more than 25 years ago by former nurse Penny Bevan Jones, runs fitness classes and courses for older people at locations all over East Anglia.

The charity also hosts training courses for care providers, with Mrs Bevan Jones running weekly water-based classes for older people and those with disabilities at Sheringham leisure and fitness centre Splash.

A year-long, lottery-funded social and fitness project was launched in 2016 in partnership with community development company First Local and Excel 2000 continues to build on the scheme’s success.

Mrs Bevan Jones, who is now looking for partner organisations to run community walking football, short tennis and water basketball sessions after securing a £8,500 Sport England grant, said seeing Ms Mansford gain confidence and movement in the water had been “fantastic”.

“Caroline is an inspiration,” she added. “She has overcome huge difficulties and not only has her mobility improved, but I think that coming to the classes has helped her recognise what she can do and build on that.”

For more information, visit www.excel2000.org.uk

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