Gordon Stuart is a One Young World Ambassador from the UK working to raise awareness of disability rights through his initiative Arctic Ride.
Discrimination and prejudice are unfortunately still issues across the world in all cultures. There are many fantastic individuals and organisations making great progress to change views and opinions but disability discrimination in particular is still a big problem.
Disability is a rather unique and often forgotten group when it comes to discrimination. Discrimination often grows out of the fear of the unknown and usually towards a different social group. Disability discrimination is unique in that, unlike an individual’s gender, race, or sexuality, it is something that can affect anyone at any time without warning.
17 years ago my little brother Robbie was brought into the world. When he was born he was a healthy, growing ‘normal’ baby. However one morning when he was 9 months old he was found not breathing by my mum. He was rushed to the hospital fighting for his life. He spent several months in hospital where his condition slowly stabilised. However due to lack of oxygen to his brain, for only a few minutes that fateful morning, he was left severely brain damaged. Doctors told my mum that my little brother would never see, talk or live a meaningful life.
Robbie defied the odds. Now an adult, his sight has returned, he is a chatterbox, and can independently travel on public transport even though he has a cognitive age of around a five or six year old. He is the happiest person I know. Despite all the positives in Robbie’s case, he still has a severe brain injury which causes learning difficulties and weight problems. This makes Robbie a target for discrimination and prejudice due to the fate that beset him which could have as easily affected those who target him.
Growing up with Robbie I have seen the sometimes harsh way society treats disabled people. When I was younger I always reacted angrily to people who would make jokes or false assumptions. As I’ve grown older, that anger has turned into a desire to raise awareness and help educate others on disability. This has culminated in me mixing my passion for disability rights with my passion for motorcycles.
I wanted to make a statement and put myself to the test in the same way Robbie and thousands of other disabled people do every day by living and doing daily tasks most of us take for granted. So on 24 May 2014 I set off on my motorbike on a 6,000 mile challenge from my hometown of Newcastle in the UK, through Europe’s toughest and most arduous environment, the Arctic, to Nordkapp in Norway, the most northerly point in Europe. On my three week journey I rode completely solo with just a tent and a camera to accompany me. Battling against freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation and poor road conditions I made it to Nordkapp on 5 June.
Whilst the trip was huge success, it was the biggest mental and physical challenge I have ever been through. I averaged over 300 miles riding every day and some days I was on the road for 14 of 15 hours. Staying alert was my biggest challenge with wildlife often running into the road in the far North of Norway and mountain passes snow-capped and sometimes blocked.
I completed this challenge not only to raise awareness for disability rights, but also to raise money for brain injury charity Cerebra, who have been wonderful in supporting Robbie and my family over the past 17 years through advice and specialist equipment. So far I have received over £4,500 in donations to the charity.
Arctic Ride was 12 months in the making and during that time I attended the One Young World Summit in Johannesburg. I met some amazing people who are doing amazing work but the thing which hit me the most was the interest in my adventure. It reaffirmed to me that what I was planning was the right thing and this kept me motivated to combine my charity work with my passion for motorcycling. Things weren’t easy and I took some knocks but every time that happened I kept in my mind what Boris Becker said to me and the other 1,200 delegates in Johannesburg “Don’t do what everyone else does, do the unexpected”.
To find out more about my adventure please visit: www.arcticride.blogspot.com
To donate visit: www.virginmoneygiving.com/arcticride2014