Anne Hailes: Celebrating Sheila the magnificent
This week Anne chats to Sheila Taylor about her new book Daringly Disabled: The Adventures of Sheila-the-Wreck which details her action and adventure-packed life in the wake of a devastating car crash
THE first time I met Sheila Taylor was the summer of 2002. Her story amazed me then and it amazes me even more now.
If I tell you she was given up for dead after a car accident in February 1996, spending 10 months in hospital with 56 fractures, a torn liver, a spleen so destroyed it had to be removed, damage to arteries around her heart and an eye that came out of its socket, you too will marvel at her courage.
Thanks to the expertise of the surgeons and doctors, her eye was saved and her body was literally put together again – but they said she couldn't expect to walk again. Sheila had other ideas! The consultant was dumbfounded when, five months after the crash, she struggled out of bed and accompanied him on his ward round.
Her recovery was difficult and painful but this is a lady who doesn't entertain failure.
In 2002, I suggested she should write a book about her experience and how she tackled the resulting disabilities – and now she has, although she's been wise enough to wait for the intervening years which have been packed with adventure.
No wonder the book's title is Daringly Disabled: The Adventures of Sheila-the-Wreck!
Last year, when she came back from holiday in Majorca, she was feeling well prepared to put pen to paper: in two months Sheila had written a witty and exciting book, the proceeds from which will be given to the Bangor and North Down Samaritans.
Sheila has been a volunteer there for 18 years, on duty twice a week in charge of the rota and dealing with e-mails and phone calls from members of the public in distress.
The rest of the week, she's working in the Bay View Resource Centre in Bangor or driving her limousine around Holywood meeting and greeting her many friends.
"I resisted at first but it has changed my life," Sheila tells me.
Her limousine is in fact a motorised scooter with a big shamrock on the back and it offers her the ability to get out and about locally and further afield using the train.
"Life is too fast in a car," she says.
"Look at me, I've no parking problems, I can drive along the sea front and watch the children flying kites, people taking dogs for a walk, people being happy and I can stop for a chat when I want to.
"I've always tried hard not to grow old, even that horrific car crash couldn't stop my independence!"
A youthful outlook on life and a fierce determination not to let her disability stop her in her tracks has resulted in a life of adventure – despite the fact that Sheila has no heels, no ankles, four disabled limbs and has coped with cancer and hearing difficulties.
She says she waddles and calls herself Sheila the Wreck. No one else does. I think she's Sheila the Magnificent, ready for anything despite the pain and the morphine patches.
It might take three hours to accomplish the trek to The Great Wall of China with her son Mark and her guide Peter pulling her wheel chair right up the mountain so she could stand by the wall – but she did it.
Sheila was determined to go white water rafting in New Zealand and enduring a two hour coach journey to a farm in Auckland to go horse riding didn't faze her either.
"They'd dug a ditch and the horse stood in it so I was level with the saddle and could climb on board and canter with the best of them," she explains.
Remarkably, Sheila has been a sailor on the Tall Ships, taking her turn with the able-bodied to wash porthole windows with vinegar and newspaper, hose down the deck and coil the ropes.
"We were wheelies and wobblies!," she laughs.
"A mix of physically less-able, able-bodied and crew and we worked well together."
She expressed a desire to go up to the crows nest on the Lord Nelson, considered trying on her own, but realised it wouldn't be possible.
However, as usual, there were willing helpers who hoisted her up.
"Once I got up there it was lovely," Sheila recalls, "everyone clapped and cheered."
This woman has gone swimming on the back of an elephant, snorkelled in Cuba and explored Lapland, Canada and Alaska.
In India, she took the dangerous Tiger Trail and went paragliding in Tunisia – it would seem nothing daunts her.
Sheila books hotels where there will be plenty of activity, lots of families and young children full of confidence and enthusiasm.
She loves a beer and she delights in sitting with a drink and filling in her diary.
"I don't look back, what's the point?" she says.
"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm a new person now, thankful that I'm as able as I am. I'm content."
When she was trying to get up to the crow's nest on a Tall Ship sailing round the Canary Islands and lamenting she couldn't do it without help, the captain told her: "To have tried and failed is success, to fail to try is failure."
Without doubt, the daringly disabled Sheila Taylor is success personified.
:: Daringly Disabled: The Adventures of Sheila-the-Wreck will be published on May 11, priced £9.99.