When Jennifer Lee was born, her parents were told she may never walk or talk, but this year she became the first Yorkshire woman to represent the UK in the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
When Jenny was around 9-months-old, brain scans revealed she had an abnormality. Her mum and dad were lead to believe she probably wouldn’t achieve a normal life.
They were still determined to give Jenny every chance to succeed, and today the 20-year-old defies the bleak prognosis given when she was young.
In March Jenny placed 4th at the Special Olympics 2017 World Winter Games in Austria. Jenny is also the first Yorkshire woman ever to represent her country at the event.
Mum Helena says she has always showed extraordinary determination. After her third birthday Jenny was walking with a frame, and her parents decided to enrol her in dance and swimming classes to help with strength and balance.
At this age Jenny was also confirmed deaf and given hearing aids. By the age of 12, her hearing had deteriorated to such an extent that she required surgery. Cochlear implant surgery meant Jenny could hear new sounds - for the first time she was able to listen to birdsong. But her balance was still failing.
Helena is a skater herself and felt her daughter’s balance and gait might benefit from ice skating, so following a physiotherapy consultation they decided to give it a try.
Helena said: “We knew ice skating would be a whole new challenge for Jenny, who had a lot of trouble coping with balance and coordination due to her brain defect and hearing loss.
“But it was when Jenny tried skating that we really saw her incredible determination shine through. She spent a lot of time falling over at first and could have easily thrown in the towel.
“But she persevered and quickly gained confidence. Her love of music and dancing certainly helped and gradually her skating improved - she came to love it more than anything else.
“Because of Jenny’s disability she can have trouble gauging where sounds are coming from in an echoing rink, so it’s also given her much better levels of self-awareness and concentration.
“More than this though, figure skating has had a huge impact upon so many aspects of her day-to-day life.
“She has learned to be organised and motivated. She trains three times a week with her coach and during the weekend, when most people are in bed at 6am, Jenny is on the ice.
“She absolutely amazes us - her family - and her peers with her determination, and she never stops having fun on the ice. We’re immensely proud of what she has achieved.”
Jenny fits 6-8 hours of skating per week at her local Ice Arena in Bradford around a college course and a part time job in McDonalds, where she works as a customer care team member.
Jenny’s older sister, Occupational Therapist Hannah, 23, also skates and has been a big support. She helps transport Jenny during the dark mornings and the sisters help and encourage each other with their skating too.
Hannah said: “It’s through the sport that Jenny has learned to talk to people, to listen and work hard.
“Skills we take for granted, like using public transport, have been a big challenge for her. If it wasn’t for wanting to get to the rink when we couldn’t give her transport, she would never have set foot on a bus or train on her own.”
Jenny has been joined as a member of the Special Olympics for the last four years. Since 2012 has also placed 1st each year consecutively in the Inclusive Skating competition (Dumfries competition).
In 2014 Jenny competed in Iceland, and was awarded a gold medal by the President. In 2016 she qualified for the Special Olympics Winter Games and received an award from Bradford Ice Skating Club to recognise this success.
Now, far from being unable to lead a regular life, the down to earth Yorkshire girl has skated for Great Britain at the prestigious Special Olympics 2017 World Winter Games.
Jenny said: “I feel really proud to have skated for my country. The team is like my family and we have great times together.
“The ice rink is like my second home. I really am living the dream and I would like to say a big thank you to my coaches, Pippa Pickard and Adrian Jack.
“It hasn’t always been easy and they helped me to do my best. I know if I work hard I will keep getting better."
She adds: “I think it’s important for people to know that it doesn’t matter if you have a disability - just go and enjoy yourself and be proud of who you are.”