By Katy Mann (Overall Winner)
The woman who has inspired me the most, is the one who stood beside me through thick and thin. No matter what has happened to me, she has always been there.
When I lost my three-month-old son Charlie to meningitis, she held me tightly in her arms as I cradled his body. She was a beacon of light during the depths of my grief and held the pieces of my broken heart together. She told me that his death wasn’t in vain. She urged me to ‘turn your loss into a positive and use it to help others’. She gently encouraged me to write about him, to share his story and try and save other lives by talking publicly about our traumatic experience.
She was the constant hum in my ear, whispering ‘you can do this, you can make a difference’. She gave me the strength to get out of bed each day when all I wanted to do was to curl up into a ball, cry myself to sleep and never wake up again.
She didn’t let me down, instead she pushed me harder and harder until we reached millions of people, raising awareness of the signs of this potentially fatal condition. Her support was unfailing, telling me I was capable of more than I could ever believe. Together we achieved incredible things and for a brief moment life was magical.
She was there when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter and shared my emotional delight, comforting me that everything was going to be ok this time. She smiled knowingly, as she said this baby was a gift from Charlie. In her heart she knew that he had sent his little sister down to help heal some of those terrible wounds I had suffered.
When I became seriously ill, she was still right next to me, my very own cheerleader. She told me I was more than just my illness. She was convinced that I could turn my disability into another way to do some good and that I shouldn’t let it take over who I was. ‘It is just a part of your body that isn’t functioning, but it doesn’t define you’ she reassured me. She said I had a public voice now and I should use it to advocate for other people, those who were in the same boat that I now found myself in. Yet again, she knew me better than anyone else and had a way of pulling me through.
As I questioned myself over and over, she asked me if I wanted to give up? Knowing full well that giving up wasn’t part of who I am. She was the only person who could say that to me, as she knew exactly how I would answer. No, I wouldn’t stop, but I would do as much as my body was capable of. I couldn’t do much physically, but her words were enough to keep me going, even when my body let me down.
When I fell into a deep depression, there was that whisper in my ear once more ‘you are enough’. I shook it off and ignored her, as I couldn’t believe that it was true. I wasn’t enough, I was a burden to everyone because of my disability. She wouldn’t stop though, she kept going and going until the words finally filtered into my brain. Eventually a flicker of light shone through the tunnel of darkness, pulling me back from the brink once more.
She told me just to be me and let my personality shine, but once again I didn’t listen. That was the hardest advice to take from her. Being yourself is one of the most difficult things to do in life, to let down the fortress around you and allow people in. She loves me though and accepts me for the person inside. She said, ‘dance in your wheelchair, sing songs really badly, make people laugh, be the natural show off that you are and write…oh please write!’
So I did. With great trepidation I wrote down my innermost thoughts and dreams. I shared deep, personal things with complete strangers, and you know what? She was absolutely right! She knew exactly what was best for me. It gave my confidence the boost it so desperately needed, and she lifted me out of some of my darkest days.
Today I looked over at her, to see her smiling back at me, like a proud parent to a child. She is the person I will always look up to, the person I want to be.
She is my inner voice. She is me.
It’s who she is, what she does, and how she does it
By Yasmin Jones (U18 Winner)
To easily be able to name a plethora of women in my life who I would classify as “inspiring” to both myself and the community around me is undeniably heart-warming. However, this did not diminish the test that this essay faced me with. The test was deducing just one woman and her impact alone to talk about. As a result of this challenge, to try and make my decision easier I made the unsurprising decision to consult a never-failing source of information and guidance…google. The search “what makes a woman inspirational?” brought up a monumental amount of results, yet my favourite source of assistance came from “Hearts Inspire”, who stated that “an inspiring woman is defined by who she is, what she does, and how she does it.”
Although this can appear as a self-explanatory expectancy of someone named to be inspirational, the last of the three factors struck me as an under-appreciated one. Mothers, grandmothers, teachers and well-known figures in society are often viewed as inspirational because of who they are and what they do, yet it is how someone does those things that shows their character in the truest light as well as the real meaning behind what they do. It was taking this factor into consideration that, to an extent, made the decision for me.
One of my closest and oldest friends is the inspiration in my life, and to those around me, who is all-too-often overlooked and undervalued. Natasha isn’t regularly referred to with the title of an “inspiring woman”, because there has never been a turning point or breakthrough in her character- she has always been an inspiration to be better and do better, so much so that you could say it’s been wrongly expected . Her impact isn’t met with the gratification that it deserves mainly due to misjudgement of the change that a girl can make to those around her during her years of childhood and adolescence. When growing up and attempting to “find yourself” as a girl turning into a woman, it is vital to have a strong and inspiring female figure in your life, and for many of the girls that I know, during school and now in college, that figure is Natasha.
It is at home that the strong figures of my mum and grandmother have led me along the path of determination and the sense of self-worth even when, as a child, it is so easy to become disheartened and not show yourself the love and care that every young girl deserves. It is in classrooms that strong female teachers enabled me, and the girls in my classes, to feel like we could succeed. But it was in the playground as a child, going out with friends as a young teenager, and now in the library and in the canteen at college when I’m working that Natasha was there to inspire me, and still is.
Unfortunately, for girls growing up in this new modern world I think that it’s all too easy to worry about what you wear and how you look, as well as the fear of under-achieving and being disappointed in yourself. It’s in these times that she has been the quiet yet unwavering force of support. It is the way that she approaches every situation with a kind heart rather than judgement that makes you want to do the same for others. It is too easy to overlook the constant good that she brings to my life and the life of those in my community because of the bad that we focus on, but she has a way of showing love for who you are, which makes you want to embrace being you.
Currently, the main struggles of the girls around us are becoming content with how we look and having the strength to undertake the academic challenges facing us in order to gain the opportunities in future life that we desire. It is a scary, and sometimes overwhelming stage of life, yet in these times of struggle, Natasha does the most inspiring thing that any woman can do: rather than being swept up in the academic rivalry that education bombards us with and seeing everyone around her as an opponent to surpass , she shows support for everyone and what they do.
It is such a small thing to unselfishly support those around you, and yet it becomes hard in a chapter in your life when every female figure surrounding you is working on themselves and their future alone. To become self-focused and self-orientated is so easy in times of struggle; the never-failing words of encouragement and pride that she shows towards everyone’s achievements is inspiring.
She is profoundly and undeniably an inspiration to me and the community around BL6 purely due to who she is, what she does, and how she does it. She is full of heart and an unbreakable kindness, she approaches every situation with love (even the hardest), and she does it with a vigour that cannot be broken. Natasha has never taken it upon herself to bring another woman down – instead, she embodies the ideology that women really can empower other women. It may seem like a small spark of inspiration in the grand scheme of things, but for every girl I know she is the huge step in the right direction that we needed.
by Charlotte Oliver (Highly Commended)
She was born on the 20th January 1934 – not an amazing date of any significance really, only to the people that knew her, admired her and loved her.
She came into being with a twin sister who died within hours of her arrival – something my dear Grandmother never really got over; always feeling that a part of her own being was missing.
Born into a working-class family from a Northern industrial town, she lived through the war hopelessly terrified by bombs being dropped around her, not understanding why “Mr. Hitler” did not like her, but like many of her generation, she took this courage and resilience into her future life. She earned a scholarship at a local girl’s high school and from here, her life was one of intelligence, hope, laughter but most of all uplifting joy.
Her smile could light up a room, with her take on life being one of “live it to the best of your ability, be aware but never afraid” and always “all will be well”.
As a small child she cuddled and protected me both physically and mentally and her personal strength, through good times and bad, permeated through my soul and spirit – all could be overcome. She used to tell me of her life’s adventures – trips abroad, looking to the past in historic monuments, castles and museums not only to ground herself as a human being in the present but to inform her future. She taught me about nature, identifying plants as we walked along to nursery. We talked about the seasons; the hope of Spring, the joy of Summer and the inevitable end of the year in the cosiness of Autumn and Winter. Always my Grandmother pointed out the positives in everything and as such she celebrated life in all its aspects and glory. We’d suddenly stop on our walk and look for an elusive wren as it sang its sweet song. She’d point out the robins as they seemed to knowingly nod to her sharing a secret with their black bead of an eye.
She always wore clothes that were bright and vibrant, reflecting her personality, with the words of “be true to yourself and you won’t go far wrong”.
My Grandmother encouraged me in anything I set my mind to and convinced me that everything was possible. She gave me the skills to play the piano, of how to knit and crochet as well as how to give in the true sense, looking beyond self-service into self-sacrifice both in supporting charities and giving time and comfort to those less fortunate. She was always seen by others as a confidante, an adviser and a true friend.
She had a watch for every day of the year it seemed – keeping track of time was so important to her in an attempt to observe and utilise every single minute. There was also a clock in every room of her house, including a grandmother clock in the hall which ticked in a steady pulse, like a comforting heartbeat. Its chime rang out across the house – shouting joyfully in sections of time passing…
One day, I looked into my Grandmother’s eyes only to observe that the twinkle of life seemed to burn less bright – her smile and laughter said that things were the same, but I sensed that something was flickering and spluttering like a disturbed candle flame.
She held my hand that day, just as she had all my life; nails painted, bejewelled fingers – she looked at me and spoke volumes without using words.
She left us the very next day – a departure that reflected my Grandmother’s life – courageous, peaceful and full of dignity. She was indeed a true lady of substance.
I will never forget the lessons of life and love that she taught me as I look to conduct myself in a way that reflects her ethos of being true to myself, being honest and joyfully experiencing everything to grow and blossom – not missing a minute.
As I lay in my own bed at night, listening to the ticking of the grandmother clock in my hall as it now chimes the beat of my life, I hear the words “all is well” and I remember a lady, a friend, an inspiration and I am thankful.