"When you’re on a race track with able-bodied drivers, you’re no longer a wheelchair user – you’re another competitor. It’s the freedom you strive for after a spinal cord injury," says Nathalie McGloin. "You want to be viewed as a person, not a disabled person.”
In the United Kingdom, there are 10,000 people with a racing license. 200 of them are women, and one of them has a spinal cord injury. Her name is Nathalie McGloin.
Nathalie was 16 years old when a car accident broke her neck, but she managed to stay active through her involvement with wheelchair rugby. She got into the sport while in college, and eventually joined the national squad for Great Britain. A teammate introduced her to racing, and she was hooked almost instantly.
“When you are in a wheelchair and paralyzed from the chest down, there are limited ways of getting an adrenaline rush,” Nathalie says. “You can’t do the things that you were able to do when you were a kid, like riding a bike with no hands, jumping off a high wall or other things you get an adrenalin fix from. Wheelchair rugby is one of them but racing is a whole different ball game.”
Six years after her introduction to racing, Nathalie became the first woman in the UK with a spinal cord injury to pass her ARDS exam, achieving the license required to compete in British Club Motorsport.
“I had to demonstrate that I can exit the car in seven seconds unaided before I got the race license, so I’m not afraid of that. If the car is damaged to the point where an exit route is unavailable – if a door won’t open or if the cage is compromised – an able-bodied driver is unable to get out anyway. So I’m not any more disadvantaged in that respect,” Nathalie says.
Nathalie’s approach to high-speed sports didn’t come by inheritance or an extraordinary taste for excitement, but from coincidentally being in that passenger seat. In fact, she credits her more adventurous approach to life to her injury.
“I wouldn’t have been exposed to racing if I hadn’t sustained my injury. Life takes you down certain paths because of your situation. If I hadn’t been injured I think my life would have been much more conventional. You know – a conventional job with office hours… I don’t think I would have been as adventurous as I am now. “
Racing is probably not the first option that comes to mind if you have a spinal cord injury, and is an even bolder choice for a woman with a high-level injury. Nathalie is an inspiration to many: to people with tough conditions, to women involved in “male sports” and to anyone who needs a living example of what can be achieved with determination.
One may think that being a woman in the racing world would be enough of an obstacle, but that hasn’t caused any problems. As Nathalie explains, “It hasn’t been a factor at all. People see my wheelchair before they see my gender. They are more interested in how the car needs to be adapted for my injury level with hand controls and so on.”
“The wife of one my competitors said that if I can do it, she could do it. It’s great to be able to inspire others,” says Nathalie. “The more ladies we can get involved, the better.”