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On a high
9:16am Tuesday 16th October 2012 in Features
Lyndsay Adams had a starring role in the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies. The York amputee tells MAXINE GORDON about taking a leap of faith
WHEN Lyndsay Adams lost her leg two years ago, her biggest fear was strangers looking at her. “I didn’t have the confidence,” said mum-of-two Lyndsay. “My demons were my physical appearance – when I go out, people stare at me.”
This summer, the former hairdresser faced those demons in style by performing as a trapeze artist in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in London.
In front of 80,000 people in the Olympic stadium and a global TV audience of one billion, Lyndsay took to the air along with 40 other disabled people in a series of spectacular pieces. These included Lyndsay and her team of daredevils “falling” from the sky under open umbrellas (to accompany the Rihanna hit of the same name). The shot made the cover of the next day’s Independent newspaper.
But greater things were to come. Lyndsay was chosen to perform a thrilling trapeze stunt with aeriel artist Laszlo Simet for the closing ceremony.
As Chris Martin of Coldplay sang God Put A Smile Upon Your Face, Laszlo’s bike roared along a zip-wire, climbing 45 metres (147ft) – with Lyndsay performing on a trapeze attached to the undercarriage.
“I was nervous, but so excited as I watched Chris Martin and waited for my cue,” recalled Lyndsay. “It was the most amazing feeling; it was scary but I knew I wanted to do it.”
The journey from North Yorkshire to the Olympic stadium is ultimately a triumphant one, but not without its own trauma and heartache.
Lyndsay chose to have her left leg amputated above the knee two years ago after knee-replacement surgery catastrophically failed. She had contracted MRSA during surgery which damaged the leg so badly she was left unable to bend it and in constant pain. She had to use crutches and a wheelchair to get around.
She lived like this for four years before opting for an elective amputation.
“It was a useless leg, I’d really lost it already, it did nothing but hold me back,” said Lyndsay. “I was fit and healthy and still young. It would give me a chance to be mobile again and get my life back.”
Her partner Paul – they married this summer – supported her, as did her children, Hannah 17 and Bob, 19.
Lyndsay remembers coming round after the operation.
“The big moment was when I saw my leg and they took the bandages off; I didn’t really know what I was going to do, whether I would scream. But it was fine, neat and tidy.”
The pain had gone and after five days she left hospital. After rounds of counselling and physio, Lyndsay was fitted with a prosthetic.
Becoming disabled changed her life irrevocably. “I am a disabled person, I have had to give up a lot of independence and accept help graciously,” she said.
Unable to stand for long periods at a time, she had to give up her job.
She joined an agency, Amputees In Action, and landed some modelling work as well as work for the MOD, taking part in casualty simulation.
It was through the agency that she learned about auditions for the Paralympic ceremonies. The organisers wanted to know if she was prepared to work at height. Intrigued, Lyndsay went for an audition in London, where she had to put on a harness for ten minutes and perform somersaults and balancing acts. She pulled it off with aplomb.
“I could do it,” she said. “I am fit and strong and do lots of yoga which keeps my body in balance, so it was quite natural to me.”
She was selected, along with 39 other people with a mix of disabilities from blindness and deafness to dwarfism and cerebral palsy, as well as other amputees. For four months, they trained together in circus skills, on the trapeze, using ropes and hoops as well fitness training.
“It was hard work,” said Lyndsay. “I was covered in bruises.”
She never for a moment thought about giving up; not one of them did.
“That’s the thing about disabled people,” said Lyndsay. “They have to fight every single day just to live so nobody gives up, and nobody did.”
The night of the opening ceremony will live long in her memory. “It was absolutely overwhelming; the lights, the music, the size of it all.”
Besides the physical challenges of the performance, there were psychological ones too. “I had to do a lot of soul searching before I accepted the job,” she said. “I knew it would mean being seen by millions of people. I had to ask myself: could I cope with failing? I set myself quite a task.”
Instead, the experience was a boon for her confidence.
“I was surrounded by people just like me, people a lot worse off than me, people with completely different disabilities; I sort of forgot that I was different,” she said.
Back at the family home in Huntington, Lyndsay is preparing for her next challenge: she wants to train as a stunt woman and do more film work. She has an agent and is hoping to get more media work through the agency VisABLE People.
Meanwhile she is preparing to talk to primary school children about her extraordinary Paralympic experience – and about being disabled. “I will take in my pictures, my leg and they can ask me questions and I can tell them how being disabled doesn’t stop you doing stuff.”
She firmly believes the Paralympics have helped change people’s attitudes to disabled people. Shortly after the Paralympics, she was in a lift with a family who had a five-year-old son. The boy turned to Lyndsay and asked: “Are you an athlete?”
That question, insisted Lyndsay, would not have arisen before the Games. She said: “It just might change perceptions.”
• Watch Lyndsay perform at the Paralympic closing ceremony
• Follow Maxine on twitter @MaxineYGordon