Marsaili defies the physical odds to make her mark in disability sport
Seven years ago at the tender age of five Marsaili’s family were devastated to learn that their precious daughter, sister and granddaughter had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. It was the worst Christmas imaginable for the family as they waited and prayed anxiously for a successful outcome. The initial surgery in Glasgow was followed by proton beam therapy which meant Marsaili and her family had to travel to Jacksonville, Florida.
Although the initial prognosis was positive there was always the possibility that the cancer would return, and return it did several times, with Marsaili’s resilience, tenacity and perseverance a continual source of amazement to doctors. However, the most recent operation three years ago left Marsaili with partial paralysis down her right side and facing the challenge of her young life to regain her motor skills.
As her mother Màiri told me, Marsaili, who celebrated her thirteenth birthday last weekend, had to learn to do everything she had previously taken for granted, including how to walk and talk. In the middle of the Corona virus pandemic, the challenge was greater still and meant she had to stay in hospital for six to seven weeks during her rehabilitation, with no visitors allowed apart from her parents.
Clearly life was never going to be the same again. An active child, simple pleasures such as riding a bike with her brothers were no longer possible and her mother admits that Marsaili found that realignment difficult as she watched contemporaries go about their young lives, while others with an aptitude for sport travelled to the mainland to take part in competitions, something she herself had aspired to only a few years previously.
The youngster needed to find a sporting niche of her own and when the opportunity arose it came about by accident. A swimming instructor visiting Lionacleit needed some pupils to help out. Marsaili volunteered and at the end of the day’s swimming the instructor pulled Màiri to one side and asked her if she had ever thought of entering Marsaili for Disability Sport Scotland competitions.
The rest as they say is history with Marsaili entering a formal event last November – the first time a disabled swimmer from the Western Isles had competed at the championships. Without any specialised training, Marsaili astonished everyone by taking two golds in the 25m freestyle and backstroke along with a bronze medal in the 25m breaststroke.
To prove it wasn’t a one off she repeated her success last month at the West of Scotland Regional Championships int Glasgow with another two golds in the 25m freestyle and backstroke before adding two silver medals in the butterfly and breaststroke. In between both meets she had enrolled with Swim Western Isles – a requirement to compete at future events – and enjoyed two training sessions in Stornoway with Sarah MacLeod and David Hanlon in preparation.
Where Marsaili’s swimming career goes from here remains to be seen. While her parents are understandably reluctant to put her under too much pressure they are delighted with the confidence her success has given her.
Described by one of her teachers as a “Poster Girl For Resilience” Marsaili’s focus, drive and determination has helped her cope with a lot adversity in her young life, skills that will serve her well as she continues to develop. We look forward to seeing this inspirational young lady continue to defy the odds and enjoy further success in the months and years to come.