Posted: Fri 2nd Sep 2022

Flintshire mum-of-two living with auto-immune condition triumphs at British gymnastics championships

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Sep 2nd, 2022

A Flintshire mum-of-two who is living with an auto immune condition has won two silver medals at the Adult British Gymnastics Championships.

Hannah Fargher, 49, from Mold, is determined not to let her life be defined by the condition known as Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC). The condition causes a number of symptoms including extreme fatigue, bone and joint pain and severe itching, known as pruritus.

The mum-of-two was diagnosed with stage one PBC during a routine blood test in 2012 and was prescribed medication to help slow down the progression of the disease.

She now lives with the disease and no longer needs medication, managing to juggle life as a busy working mum to two teenagers with her gymnastics training and also acting. She is determined to raise awareness and funds for the PBC Foundation, which has supported her, in the lead up to International PBC Day on 11 September. She also wants to prove to others with PBC that it is possible to live well with the condition.

Hannah, who has a daughter Ava, 17, and son Guy, 15, trains several times a week both at her local club, Buckley Gymnastics, and at her gym in Chester.

And she has just competed in the Adult British Gymnastics Championships at Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Telford, where she came away with two silver medals.

She began doing gymnastics as a child, retiring from the sport when she was 15 but picking it up again in 2019 after a gap of around 30 years. She said she was inspired to return to gymnastics after some of her colleagues were doing a fitness challenge and she thought gymnastics would be the perfect sporting challenge for her.

Hannah, who runs a property business, found out about Buckley Gymnastics Club running adult classes and went along, quickly getting stuck back into the sport and going on to win the Adult British Gymnastics Championships in 2019.

She now combines her love of gymnastics with fundraising for the PBC Foundation, who have supported her while living with this condition.

Reflecting on her achievement at the gymnastics championships, Hannah said: “Returning to gymnastics was a bit like starting all over again because when you are young everything comes so naturally.

“When you are older your joints are aching and with my liver problems as well it’s quite a challenge. Some people with PBC have to have a liver transplant but generally you can live a normal life. It’s just about trying to manage it, really.

“It helps to keep moving and keep active. That makes me feel better. I have missed a few training sessions over the last few months because I haven’t felt very well.

“One of my symptoms is itching  and it sounds trivial but it’s awful. It’s the release of some sort of chemicals and you have what is like a heat rash all over and your skin goes red, itchy and hot. It’s a burning sensation that lingers for hours, like a heat rash or insect sting, except creams and lotions have no effect.

“When you itch the area, the skin becomes more inflamed, and you enter a vicious cycle. When I competed in the British Gymnastics Championships I was petrified that I was going to be itchy. I never know when it’s going to happen.

“I really enjoyed competing, despite having a knee injury. I was feeling quite miserable and limping the day before. I was in so much pain but so many people were coming to watch so I just strapped my knee up and just thought ‘Hannah, get on with it!’. I just did it and I really enjoyed it. My family were there supporting me too. They were screaming! I can’t wait for the next time.”

She said that medics do not know what caused her to develop PBC a decade ago, adding that it was only discovered during a blood test. Pre-Covid, a regular appointment with an NHS liver specialist for Hannah was pretty routine, but the pandemic has meant she hasn’t seen her liver consultant for over three years due to a backlog of work and staff sickness.

Hannah said: “Despite a couple of hospital admissions in the last 12 months, I still don’t clearly understand how my PBC is progressing or at what stage of the disease I am. I have a complex condition that is hard to interpret because worsening of the symptoms doesn’t always mean worsening of the condition.”

But Hannah is certainly not planning to put her feet up any time soon. She is continuing her training and her next big challenge is to win back her 2019 title at the 2023 Adult British Gymnastics Championships, when she will be 50.

She said: “I think what I have realised is that by doing this I am proving that it is possible to live with this condition and to be training for something like gymnastics competitions. I am sending the positive message to the thousands of PBC sufferers across the world that I am not going to let this rule my life.

“It’s not an opportunity to give up, it’s an opportunity to get out there and do more and be more.”

Hannah’s Just Giving fundraiser for the PBC Foundation can be found at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hannah-fargher1.

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