LEANNA WHO?,  LIFE,  Story Time

From Heels to Wheels

As far back as I can remember, I loved getting new shoes. Going to a shop where there’s so much choice and finding ones that not only fit me but made me feel special. Oh, and I absolutely loved meeting new people!

Sales assistants were just my personal audience, I looked forward to perform for them, showing off my ability to walk and turn around, admiring myself in the mirror. 

I wasn’t shy, (I know that may come as a huge surprise to those that know me). I would share stories about my sisters and my mum. I do have to apologise to my mum for embarrassing her, you see on one particular occasion I had picked up a shoe that had the European size on it. Of course I didn’t know this, I was just fascinated by the fact that it had the numbers 26 on it. 

I declared to the sales assistant and everyone in the shop with a booming voice full of pride “26 that’s how old my mummy is!” I was only 6 years old at the time so I think I was also thrilled that my age and my mum’s was so similar, hers just had a 2 in front of it. Yes I was that kid!

I don’t think my mum loved the fact she had been thrust in the spotlight along with my 3-year-old sister and baby sister, who must have been only a few months old, without any warning. 

I started dancing at the age of 3 , so I got to wear lots of different kinds of shoes, the sparklier the better. Getting new tap and ballet shoes was even more enjoyable than my everyday shoes as I felt I was one step further to becoming the dancer I dreamed I would be.

I waited so long to be good enough to get my first pair of Jazz shoes! That was a big thing for me as it also meant I was old enough to be a part of the stage school. I was now dancing with the big girls and it was a dream come true. 

There is one pair I never got to try on which I really regret to this day, that was what we called ‘blocks.’ They are the ballet shoes that are used for point work, you know the ones ballet dancers do pirouettes in.

I had to stop dancing after I injured my knee at school thanks to a Numpty boy who was running around the science lab, he knocked me off the wooden stool I had my legs wrapped around, I fell to the floor one way and my knee cap went the other. It was the worst kind of pain and even worse when I had to push it back into place.

From that point onwards my knee cap kept slipping out of place to the point it needed to be taped up. I was told I needed surgery but thankfully I managed to avoid that.

My next big set of shoes was a pair of high heels, now because of my knee I couldn’t go for really high ones, Naomi Campbell wouldn’t have been impressed but even still they were a real challenge for me.

Picture Bambi taking his first step on ice, that was me, but like with most things I wasn’t a natural, it was my perseverance that paid off. I was strutting my stuff down the catwalk like a pro, ok so when I say catwalk I mean the pavement! 

I felt empowered and that I could literally take on the world in my high heels, yes they were my secret weapon. I don’t think my confidence needed the extra boost those heels definitely super charged it. 

When my health started to deteriorate it wasn’t really a choice I just found I wore more comfortable flat shoes till the point that there wasn’t a pair of high heels in my wardrobe gathering dust, I just don’t own a pair. 

I went from walking unaided not thinking about how my legs got me from A to B, to needing a folding walking stick, then a thicker, stronger stick which was later upgraded to the not so sparkling grey crutch. I still use a crutch to help me to transfer from my wheelchair but not to walk with though I do try to take some steps when I can. 

I didn’t know there was a wide variety of wheelchairs until I needed one. I started out with a manual chair, then progressed to a self propelling wheelchair and 5 years ago I graduated to a light weight self propelling chair.

I recently attended my wheelchair re assessment, where we had the difficult task of debating of whats next as I’ve out grown my current chair. Its been decided that I will be getting a powered wheelchair. 

The freedom and support this new chair will give me is probably more than I can imagine. I am excited by the prospect of being able to reach things as this chair will raise me up and finally I won’t feel like a child when going to a bar or a till straining to get the attention of the person behind the wall of doom well that’s what I call it, maybe I am a little dramatic! 

There is a part of me that sees it as a defeat that this illness has taken more of my strength but just like when I tried on a new pair of shoes I knew that this new chair was the perfect fit for me and I can’t wait to test it out and go on new adventures.

I have accepted that I may never get to strut my stuff in a pair of high heels because I’ve ditched heels for wheels but you know what, I still feel empowered and ready to take on the world! 

At the tender age of three, Leanna Benjamin knew her place was in the limelight and that nothing else would do. From her parents' living room in Leicester, she pirouetted her way straight through school into the BBC. Just as her dreams were coming to fruition, a simple case of the flu triggered a debilitating illness that has left her with life changing consequences. Leanna Benjamin is a Graeae Theatre Write to Play alum, and a Leeds Playhouse Fuse Writer, but this is not the synopsis for her new play - it is the story of her life. And she wants to share it with you.

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