WHEN keen horsewoman Gerry Savage was struck by a disabling illness, she thought she would never ride again.
But brave Gerry is now battling for a place at the Paralympics with the Ireland team next year in a remarkable story of determination and ambition.
Gerry, who lives in Foggathorpe, was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis four-years-ago and suffers problems with her balance as well as being left with lesions on her brain.
She also suffers from osteoporosis, curvature of the spine and needs a knee replacement.
Determined not to give in to her ailments, 54-year-old Gerry has continued to compete on her beloved horse Blue and caught the attention of the Irish Para Equestrian Squad.
Gerry said: “It’s funny because I used to do some work with Riding for the Disabled many years ago and I bumped into a woman I knew from that time who suggested I join them.
“They told me that I could compete as part of the Para Equestrian Sport and I met the Irish team at a competition.
“I told them I was born in Dublin and they invited me to try for the team, then it all went mad.”
Gerry was picked to represent Ireland at the European Para Dressage Championships in the Netherlands and scored highly to keep her London 2012 Paralympic dreams alive.
She said: “This was not only a great achievement for myself but also meant that, for the first time, Ireland had qualified a team for a major competition.
“It was the first time I had competed abroad or as part of the Irish team and it was a major success.”
The Irish team now rank sixth in the world and hopes are high that Gerry and her team-mates will qualify for London 2012.
They will compete in three events next spring, in France, Belgium and Germany and Gerry is confident of success.
“I have a very good chance of getting there,” she said.
“I do need a knee replacement, but my doctor said there’s no point in replacing it until I stop riding and he knows that I’m not stopping for the Olympics.
“I just hope it all holds together.”
Gerry, who has ‘grown up’ with her 15-year-old Irish draught cross Blue, admits that her training and competing can sometimes be a struggle, but she is determined to keep pushing herself.
“When I was diagnosed, I thought I’d never ride again,” she said.
“At first they thought it might be meningitis, then MS because it has similar symptoms, and I was between Castle Hill and York hospitals for 13 weeks while they tried to find out what was wrong with me.
“It is hard work living with it, I fall over a lot and my speech can get slurred when I’m tired.
“But with a disability you have got to be determined, if you have not got the commitment, it won’t happen for you.
“I thought I’d never ride again, but just look at how it’s all taken off, I have just worked so hard at it.”
All Gerry’s focus is now on the London Paralympics next year and she will take part in selection competitions all over Europe as well as competing in England at national level. She would be grateful for any sponsors and although Gerry is excited about the chance to compete at the Paralympics, she admitted that for her and Blue it ‘is all a bit scary really!”