'I have battled through some tough, dark days where you struggle to find purpose and self worth' - Lancashire woman who has battled with Lyme disease shortlisted for top role model award

Sophie WardSophie Ward
Sophie Ward
A young woman whose Olympic swimming dream was shattered after a tick bite while visiting the pandas in China has been shortlisted for a prestigious award for being a positive role model.

Sophie Ward has battled through some dark days since her life completely changed after being bitten by a tick while visiting the pandas in China which eventually led to a diagnosis of deadly Lyme disease.

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'A tick bite while visiting pandas in China ruined my life'

Sophie, now 24, who lives in Garstang, was a champion swimmer destined for the Olympics.

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However, at the age of 14, the former Kirkham Grammar School pupil went to Beijing in 2008 to experience the Olympics in preparation for London 2012 and, while she was out there, she went on a trip to visit the pandas, where it is believed she was bitten by a tick leading to Lyme disease.

It was only about four years later that Sophie began experiencing ill health with different ailments including recurring water infections, migraines, food intolerances and sore throats.

Despite repeated visits to the doctors and hospital tests, Sophie was told everything was fine but her health continued to decline leading to her having to give up her swimming and even drop out of college.

Sophie was undiagnosed for nine years and was only diagnosed with Lyme disease last year at the age of 23 after going to Breakspear Medical Centre in Hemel Hempstead.

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Lyme disease can be a lifelong condition and attacks the body in different ways and affects tissues, cells and organs.

Sophie’s health is up and down and she needs a wheelchair for longer trips.

Despite her own health issues, Sophie is dedicating her time to raising awareness about Lyme disease and is one of the administration members for Lyme Disease UK. She also writes a personal blog of her own experience for Lyme Disease UK.

Sophie has been shortlisted for the Positive Role Model for Disability at the National Diversity Awards which will be held later this week.

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She is one of just six people shortlisted from more than 24,000 nominees.

Community organisations and role models from across the UK will head to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral this Friday September 14 to witness the 2018 winners being crowned the best of British diversity.

Among those being honoured are freedom fighters, domestic violence campaigners and trans rights activists all of who work tirelessly to combat injustice and discrimination in very different ways.

Sophie has been shortlisted for the Positive Role Model for Disability award. She says: “I am blown away and so truly honoured to have been shortlisted out of so many inspiring individuals.

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“Through my own health struggles I have made it my passion and aim in life to save, protect, empower and inspire people battling in multiple ways. I run my own blog Sophantastic that shares my own struggles inthe hope I can bring comfort and inspire others to always see the light no matter how dark it seems.

“I have battled through some tough, dark days where you struggle to find purpose and self worth.“We only get one shot at life and we have a choice to allow the negatives to take over or fight them and work with them to make the best of the cards we are dealt.

“It is important for our own healing to find a positive purpose and this is often found in helping to heal others and empowering and enriching lives.

“Last August, I looked like skin and bones and near death. I have come so far. It has taken a lot of soul searching, adapting and accepting my condition and limitations. I have stepped out of my comfort zone and opened up so people can find comfort in not battling and suffering alone but also know that we can find a light and we do deserve life.

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“I hope to be proof to all that a positive mindset can be the best medicine and the key to a happier more fulfilling life. It is a big boost to have recognition for this work by being shortlisted for these awards.”

Global brand Johnson & Johnson have been announced as headline sponsors of the awards that have paid tribute to more than 700 grassroot charities and diversity champions since its inception.

Joining the likes of the Army, Direct Line Group and Nielsen, Johnson & Johnson are listed among a host of companies showcasing their support.

Designed to highlight the country’s most inspirational and selfless people, the National Diversity Awards gain endorsements from high profile figures such as Stephen Fry, Sir Lenny Henry and Graham Norton.

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Radio 2 presenter and Scissor Sister favourite Ana Matronic will host this year’s ceremony alongside television presenter Brian Dowling. Ana says: “I’m delighted to be hosting the 2018 National Diversity Awards in Liverpool for the second year in a row. Last year’s event was a true celebration of diversity across every area and nothing gives me greater pleasure than being able to be a part of this prestigious event.”

Paul Sesay, founder and CEO of the National Diversity Awards, says: “Our judging panel had an incredibly difficult task of whittling down the nominees to create an outstanding shortlist.”

Visit Sophie’s blog at: www.sophantastic.org