Strong Women: 'Multiple sclerosis didn't stop me becoming the best in the UK'

Strong Women is a weekly series that champions diversity in the world of sport and fitness.

Women of all shapes, sizes, races, ages and abilities are achieving amazing things – but we rarely get to see them.

Too many women are being put off from sport and fitness altogether because the industry is exclusive and often only promotes one kind of body image.

This series aims to remind women that anyone can be fit, strong and love their body – regardless of how they look or how they are perceived.

Aimi Bullock was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013, but she refused to let the condition alter her life and competitive nature.

Golf became a way for Aimi to continue playing competitive sport, even during the worst bouts of her illness – and now she’s the UK’s number one golfer with a disability.

Illness forced you to give up hockey – your first sporting love. How did you cope?

It came as a shock at the time because I was initially diagnosed with something called optic neuritis and I temporarily lost the sight in my left eye.

I had always played hockey or a team sport and I just decided that my health was more important that the sport.

I needed to protect myself and I decided that it was probably too dangerous to be risking the sight in my other eye playing a sport like hockey.

It was a devastating blow because it was the only big sport that I had played.

However, I was very fortunate that a friend came up to me not long after and asked whether I wanted to play golf for a bit of fun instead.

I fell in love with the sport straight away and I basically went from playing hockey to playing golf immediately. 

How have you managed to channel your energy into golf?

I have always wanted to play sport to the best of my ability and it’s always good to find a sport you’re good at.

When I first started, I struggled to play golf.

You tend to hit one good shot and a few bad shots so you really begin to live for hitting the few really good shots when you first start off.

Now, I’ve almost completely shut myself off from the world of hockey because I was so devastated that I couldn’t play anymore and have channelled everything into golf and improving as a player in the sport.

Can golf bring you the same enjoyment now that hockey used to? 

It’s difficult because I’ve always been more of a team sport person.

Golf is a very individual sport and that means it comes with a lot of mental challenges to deal with along the way.

But, every so often, you play in team events that add the team spirit element to the sport which I miss from my hockey days.

Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I’ve also had to deal with life moving in a different way to how I expected it to and so I have to manage my energy levels and health in order to play golf.

There’s a fine balance, I have to work at managing the energy levels and I wouldn’t be able to manage them playing hockey anymore. 

Tell us about your journey as an athlete with MS 

It’s a really l hard one because I’ve been throwing myself at sport all my life.

My idea of a workout was to spend as much time as possible on the running machine and if I felt exhausted afterwards then I knew I’d had a good training session.

I can’t do that with MS because my symptoms would get worse so I’ve had to learn to exercise in a different way and manage myself completely differently.

I’ve had experiences with poor memory too. There’s this thing call MS brain fog where you feel like your head is a washing machine and you just can’t function for the day.

I’ve learned the hard way that you have to stop and let your body deal with everything to stop yourself from having an MS episode. That way you can do the things you love again quickly.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Last week I was fortunate enough to be selected as the captain of the England disabled golf team competing in the European Nations Cup where we finished runners-up.

It was a huge honour to  captain England, it really was a fantastic experience. It was quite a major tournament and incredible to be a part of.

I love a team event so I thought it had a really great format. It was a real team sport event and we played really well together.

Do you think of yourself as a strong woman? 

I’ve never really considered myself a strong woman in the past but I’m very competitive, very determined and if I start something, I’ll finish it.

That has always been my way of life.

So I believe everyone else would say I’m a strong woman, but my mindset has always been like that naturally.

Obviously, being diagnosed with MS has made things harder, but my determination has got me through.

What do you think still needs to be improved about disability sport? Is it accessible enough?

There are big things happening with the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA). They’re partnering with the European Tour in order to bring the sport to a wider audience so that people are far more aware of the athletes that are participating and what we are capable of doing.

Golf in particular is an amazing sport because it has the handicap system, so people of all ages and abilities can play a round of golf.

I think golf is going through some really exciting times at the moment and the sport is going to be brought to a wider audience which will hopefully increase participation.

The role of sponsorship and partnerships with other organisations is increasingly important too.

The EDGA doesn’t have a massive budget and it is doing amazing things for disabled golfers, but without partnerships and bigger organisations such as RSM and Golfbidder, who are willing to support us, it would be slow progress.

This Girl Can

Find out more about Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign on the website.

There are inspirational stories, workouts you can do in the park or on the school run, and loads of advice on how to build fitness into your daily routine.

You can even become a #ThisGirlCan supporter to help encourage women and girls of all shapes, sizes, abilities and backgrounds to get active.

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