Removing Cerebral Palsy Stigma: An Interview with Charlie Randell

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Removing Cerebral Palsy Stigma: An Interview with Charlie Randell

For many people, the concept of stigma is central to their understanding of living with a disability. However, for fitness and lifestyle YouTuber Charlie Randell, his personal experiences with childhood cerebral palsy have been much more nuanced, and he is determined to use these experiences to help break down a lot of the stigmas that still exist around disabled living.

JMW Solicitors spoke to Charlie about his experiences growing up with cerebral palsy, and how he has adapted by challenging some of the stigmas and assumptions related to fitness and dating someone with a disability. His advocacy helps to show that by moving beyond stigma, the experience of disability can be much more fulfilling than the common stereotypes might lead you to believe.

We'd like to thank Charlie for taking the time to share his experiences of cerebral palsy relationships and fitness with us! If you'd like to find out more about living with this condition, visit our Cerebral Palsy Hub.

Can you tell us how cerebral palsy has affected you, personally?

Unlike many people with cerebral palsy, I was not born with it. I was born 10 weeks premature, but apart from that my birth was normal. At a few weeks old, I stopped breathing due to being sent home from the hospital too early and catching a throat infection - I didn't have enough white blood cells to fight off the infection. An ambulance had to take me to the hospital where I was revived seven times. My parents received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy when I was around 18 months old and it was believed to be caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. 

For me, the condition itself means I am unable to walk independently and require different types of mobility aids for different activities. Day-to-day, I mostly use a wheelchair. However, I do also use a walking frame and crutches. My condition also means I have difficulty with daily tasks like getting myself dressed, and means I have to use a litter picker to help me with this. Cerebral palsy also affects the finer manipulation in my hands, meaning I have difficulty with handwriting.

When did you become interested in fitness? 

My love for fitness started in 2012 after watching Ellie Simonds win a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympics. I remember turning around to my dad and saying "I want to do that".

Can you tell us a bit about your fitness journey?

Where do I start? Since the 2012 Paralympics, I wanted to be a Paralympic swimmer and I completely threw myself into it. I trained at every opportunity I got. It’s also worth mentioning that when I first started swimming I couldn’t even finish a length, but by the end of it, I was trialling for the GB squad. 
Then I got more and more into bodybuilding after watching a lot of fitness YouTubers. I noticed that no one that I knew of was doing it from a disability perspective, which led to me starting a personal brand promoting disabled fitness and trying to help other people with disabilities.

How have you been able to adapt your fitness routine to work with your cerebral palsy? Are there any pieces of equipment that you use to aid your fitness routine?

I am extremely lucky with my local gym as they have allowed me to book training times with staff. This means that I can have the assistance that I need, as a lot of the assistance I require is mostly just helping me move weights around or get onto equipment.

In terms of assistive equipment, my main two are a yoga strap which allows me to tie my legs together when training legs to allow better muscle activation and using fewer external muscle groups. I also use the strap to tie myself onto the bench when lifting a significant weight to help improve my stability, particularly as balancing is something I have difficulty with. On several occasions, I have fallen off of the bench, so this just gives me that little bit of reassurance. The second one I use a lot is a medium-sized muscle roller. I use this to help keep my knees from caving in when performing exercises as it reduces the chances of injury. 

What types of exercise are suitable for people with cerebral palsy? 

I believe anything can be. The main thing to focus on is being adaptive and finding a way that suits you. Obviously, everyone has their own limitations, but there isn’t a set rule just for people with cerebral palsy.
For example, I was struggling to find a way to perform pull-ups as I am relatively short and unable to jump, so it meant that I couldn't reach the pull-up bar. However, after discussing it with some of the staff at my gym, we put our heads together and came up with a new way of doing it. This involved me using the Smith machine in a way that worked for me: I moved the bar to the highest clip that I could reach, then moved my feet forward so that I stood directly under the bar and the weight was going through my body. This allowed me to perform a pull-up movement. It’s all about finding a way for the individual.

Outside of the physical benefits, how can participating in sport and fitness help someone with cerebral palsy? 

Sport and fitness can help massively with mental health. I have certainly become a lot more confident within myself because of it. It has also allowed me to meet some amazing people. It’s often thought that the sports and fitness industry is a very judgemental industry - while some of this is true, there are also some incredible people you meet along the way and you’ll often find that they want to help you reach your goals, so I’d definitely say the social aspect is a huge benefit.

What is something that you are proud of achieving so far during your fitness career?

Being a county record holder in 50m breaststroke, and pressing over 100KG on the leg press machine. 

What advice would you give to other young adults with cerebral palsy that might be keen to pick up a sport?

If you want to find a disability sports club, then the internet is your best friend. 

The other piece of advice I’d give is to try lots of different sports or activities out. I tried so many different sports, from football to horse riding and swimming, before I got into weight lifting. 

Do people often have preconceptions about you when they find out about your disability? What are the stigmas associated with disabilities?

Yes, certainly. I think one of the most common ones has to be that “all disabilities are the same”. I’d often have people doubt my intellectual ability because of my physical condition. 

People also think that disabled people don’t do “normal stuff” like having social lives, going to bars and restaurants with their friends, having relationships and partners, or even just having a job. There is a common misconception that lies not only in media representation, but in social, political, and occasionally medical settings, that disabled people sit at home all day every day.

What’s one misconception about cerebral palsy that you want to clear up?

That there are so many different severities of cerebral palsy, and we are not all the same. All of our abilities are different and how it affects our day-to-day life is individual to each person.

You mentioned that people don’t realise that for those with cerebral palsy, relationships still are a real possibility. Can couples with cerebral palsy have similar relationships to those without?


I certainly do. My partner and I live together - we go on regular dates, we go on holiday together, we bicker, we’ve spoken about our goals for the future like having kids and owning a house together. If you ask me, this is all very normal. Again, it comes down to being adaptive and working out what works for you.

What are the challenges faced when dating with cerebral palsy?

There are quite a lot of challenges when dating with a disability, but the main one is definitely breaking down stigmas. 

Common misconceptions are that dating a disabled person or dating someone with cerebral palsy is difficult, but doesn’t every relationship have its challenges? Another would be that the other person does all the caring and they are seen as the carer, but disabled people can be caring, too. 

The other difficulty is getting people to look past your disability as I used to get rejected before they had even got to know me. People see a disability as something that could affect a relationship negatively, so they tend to immediately retract as a result. But had they gotten to know me, they might have realised that we have lots in common, and my disability may not affect our relationship at all.

What advice would you give to someone with cerebral palsy who’s looking to get out into the dating world?

Be yourself. Embrace your disability and try not to take too much to heart. Getting rejected is never a nice experience, but often disabled individuals can take it a lot more personal as they believe it’s due to their condition. 
Unfortunately, there are still some people in this world that have a very narrow view on disability and aren’t in a position where they are ready to learn.
Lastly, your relationship will eventually come. I hated those words when I was dating, but it’s true - eventually, you will find the one. Just try and enjoy the ride. 

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