In Conversation with - Sara Shams

With International Women's Day right around the corner, there couldn't have been a better time to share the inspirational story and message behind this month's S-kin Muse: Sara Shams!

Born with a rare condition called tibial hemimelia, Sara found herself without both her lower legs quite early on in her childhood. Despite the challenges this presented to Sara throughout her life, she progressively found her pathway towards self-love and confidence. Today, she stands and even runs proudly as inclusivity activist working towards more open conversations about disability and making everyone feel important and valued. 

Keep reading to learn more about Sara's journey!

How are you?

I am great, thank you 😊 Okay, maybe feeling a tad tired as we have a new puppy at home, but the cuddles make it all worth it!

 

I understand that you have a rare condition called tibial hemimelia. Can you please elaborate what this has meant for you?

Yes, I was born with the very rare congenital anomaly known as tibial hemimelia, where the tibia and tibial side of the foot were absent from both legs. My fibula was present however I was unable to weight bare and consequently had them amputated at the age of 6. This resulted in me becoming a bilateral through-knee amputee.

As a child, I ran around on my knees (quite fast) and because of this, even though I had access to prosthetic legs, I refused to wear them. Plus, in the 90s, we weren’t as well connected as we are today, and I had little access to peer support/in contact with others like me. I think that would have made me more open to using my assistive technology!

 

You’ve previously mentioned that you have had prosthetic legs since the early 2000’s. How do you think the perception/opinion of prosthetics has changed in the past 20 years?

Publicly, there has been a shift in people’s perception and attitude towards prosthetic legs, and disability in general. I believe the emergence of social media has contributed to the sharing of knowledge, education, and increased acceptance of our differences. There is a long way to go but it is different since the 90’s and early 2000’s. However, I think the biggest change for me has been within myself (more about that later).

What have been some of the greatest emotional and/or physical challenges?

Greatest Physical challenge - and most rewarding - would be learning to use my running legs aka blades and participating in the Bridge to Brisbane run in 2019!

I successfully received grant funding from the START Foundation. The START Foundation are an organisation that empowers amputees in life by helping them reach their sporting dreams. They funded my running legs and in 2019, I ran for the first time in my life - an incredible feeling. Learning to use the blades involved training with a running coach, exercise…and a lot of falls. But it was all worth it! With the support of my family and friends, I was able to complete my sporting goal.

 

You often speak about the difference between diversity and inclusivity. Are you able to explain the difference of these two concepts for us?

Put simply, diversity is the ‘what’ and inclusion is the ‘how’.

Diversity is when there are individuals from a range of backgrounds are present i.e., abilities, gender, socioeconomic background, culture, sexual orientation, and religion.  

Inclusion is when the diverse individuals feel welcomed, valued, and respected. Creating an inclusive environment, that is free from bias, is putting strategies and procedures in place to ensure the diversity is working.

 

What does inclusivity mean to you?

Inclusivity is providing resources and opportunities to every person. Having a seat at the table, a say in development of policies and procedures. Inclusion can also be as simple as including accessibility information in confirmation emails for meetings.

When did you start modelling/How did you get started in modelling?

Growing up in the 90’s, I never saw anybody like myself on TV, the media or advertising. Today, the situation has improved slightly but there is still a lot of work to be done. I got involved with modelling because I want to increase representation of people living with disability in the media.

Disabled individuals go to the gym, wear active wear, like to wear fashionable clothes but we are never seen to be doing any of these activities or portrayed in such scenarios. I am working towards a world where having someone like me on mainstream TV and marketing campaigns is no longer a ground-breaking story. Every body deserves representation!

 

Is content creation and modelling your main job? 

No, it isn’t, and my work in this industry is in its infancy stages! I am a pharmacist by background and currently studying for a Master of Public Health. I am passionate about ensuring equitable access to healthcare for all individuals in society and evidence-based health policies lead to this.

 

You’ve grown quite a strong Instagram community recently! Did you ever think you would find yourself in a position of ‘’influence’’ and what has that meant for you?

Haha, thank you - it is all very unexpected! I started the page back in 2018 because I wanted to share my experiences as an amputee and help using my personal experiences - especially for young children and their parents, who may face similar situations I had to deal with growing up.

But, in all honesty, I don’t think I quite fit into the ‘influencer’ category! To me, if my posts and content can help one other person or family, believe that being disabled is not a hindrance or burden in life, then that’s my job done!

If you could go back 10 years to give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Embrace your quirks” - back in 2018, I realised I had spent almost 28 years of my life being ashamed of my disability. I didn’t want others to think or feel the same about themselves and that’s when I started the No Legs No Worries Instagram account. This has opened opportunities for me and has been surprisingly rewarding as well. I have also met many amazing and incredible people!

Someone that inspires you - Julia Gillard

Favourite TV show right now - I have been loving K-Dramas for a while now, no specific favourites at this moment in time. 

Something you do every day that brings you joy - playing and just being with our puppy Ollie ❤

Favourite Meal - biriyani (Bengali dish that has spiced mixed rice with meat, can also be made vegetarian!).

One word that simply describes you - Bright 

You can find Sara on Instagram @nolegs_noworries

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