I had the pleasure this week of having a coffee at Fisher and Donaldsons in Cupar with the remarkable Caroline Baird MBE. My specific mission was to meet the new Caroline following her extensive surgery and rehabilitation at the hands of a brilliant medical team in London. From the moment I picked her up at her parents home and bid farewell to her two daughters for a short period it was obvious that Caroline is indeed a very different person. Her posture, mobility, confidence and speech have improved dramatically following a number years of restriction, pain, lack of energy, frustration and loss of confidence.
Almost 18 months ago Caroline and Dr Sammler, her neurologist at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, embarked on a journey that eventfully led to her visit to the medical team in London. Caroline was introduced to different treatments under the expert guidance of Dr Sammler but the returns were disappointing. Deep brain stimulation is routinely used in the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s with incredible success but less so for those with dystonia. Caroline did not hesitate when it was offered to her as an option and she and husband John headed south on a journey that the family most definitely believe led to the return of the Caroline of old. While everybody at home held their breath, the gritty, determined successful Paralympian of the 90s took it all in her stride.
Caroline spent approximately three weeks in hospital under care of the superb medical team. She spent 7/8 hours in surgery over two sessions and ended up with two electrodes in her head and a “box” on the upper part of her chest that controls the whole stimulation process. John has the task of controlling the process under guidance from the London medical team and to date everything has gone exceptionally well. Approximately two weeks after leaving hospital Caroline proudly walked up the Bonnygate in Cupar in her role as a Past Chieftain of Cupar Highland Games to the complete astonishment of fellow Chieftains and friends. Another example of medical progress, the skills and abilities of the medical profession and the determination of a young woman to secure quality in her life free from pain and postural challenges.
During our coffee chat we spoke about the future and despite my efforts she did not buy into my suggestion of a future in bowls preferring instead her own mission to get back on a bicycle. Caroline reminded me that she meant a bicycle and not a tricycle. True to form challenge is always at the forefront of her thinking, with an emphasis on making up for lost time. Her immediate aim is to get back to work with Cornerstone Care where she works as a support worker with tenants with additional support needs.
Introduced to Para sport by Disability Sport Fife (DSF), Caroline’s first representative honour came as a member of the Scottish Junior Squad that competed in the British Junior Swimming Championships at Stoke Mandeville. She was encouraged to try athletics and very quickly it was evident this was where she would excel. Caroline’s first major representative honour came as a member of the Scottish Youth Team that travelled to the World Games in Miami in 1989. Caroline then went on to win 5 Paralympic medals of which 4 were gold. Her first Paralympic selection was Barcelona in 1992 and she returned with a gold medal. Further honours and medals followed in Atlanta and Sydney. She also won gold at the World Championships in Berlin in ’94 and Birmingham in ’98. For over a decade Caroline was recognised as the world’s leading sprinter in the T36 Class. She achieved times and set standards that had never been envisaged for a T36 athlete with cerebral palsy. Caroline was the true superstar of women’s athletics for her generation. She pushed the boundaries and raised the standards in the T36 class under the guidance of coach, John Oulton.
Spending time with Caroline is always a pleasure and this occasion was no exception. She inspired me as an athlete and continues to amaze me as a friend of many years. Coffee time was a pleasure and one particular phrase sticks in my mind “waking up every day and experiencing the changes that have happened is like a dream come true”. Well done Caroline and her medical team plus of course her devoted husband and family who have been behind her throughout her life. Disability Sport Fife is fiercely proud of this great athlete role model.
Richard Brickley MBE – President Disability Sport Fife