Beneficiary Case Study: 7
Beneficiary Name: Leah
Muscle Dream Number: 207th
|“There are so many charities out there who all do wonderful things, but there is something about MHF that I have yet to find anywhere else. I know there are 657 muscles in the body, but the biggest muscle in this charity is their heart.”|
SOURCE: Leah Booth, MHF Ambassador
Leah, who lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2, first heard of the Muscle Help Foundation (MHF) charity back in September 2015. Her younger sister had seen the ‘Earn Your Wings’ Flying Experience application on Facebook and told her to apply.
|Leah says: |
“After a lot of research and a lot of ‘could I actually fly a plane?’ moments, I decided to apply. I was recovering from a recent breakdown at that time and had become withdrawn, angry, confused, and I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. My sister made me realise I had nothing to lose by applying but I had the potential to gain an amazing experience.
“When Michael, MHF’s CEO, rang me to say that I had been selected, it took a few moments to sink in. I was actually going to fly a plane! I was excited, nervous and most of all giddy. And so, one sunny weekend in September 2015 myself, my mother and sister went down to Farnborough to meet the MHF family and fly a plane. From the moment I met the team and the other Muscle Dream recipients I felt at home. I also met someone that was to become a lifelong friend – Naomi. From the moment we met it was like we had known each other for years.
|Leah goes on to say: |
“For the flying experience itself, we headed to Blackbushe Airport, near Farnborough. The day started with a safety briefing. We went into the hanger and met our co-pilots. A few people went up in their planes ahead of me and every single one of them came back to the ground with massive smiles… and then it was my turn!
“Once we were settled in the plane – I was in the co-pilots seat and my family were in the back – the nerves really kicked in. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I flipped the plane? There were lots of ‘what ifs’ going around my head! But once I pulled back on the controls and was in the air, all those thoughts and fears disappeared. Everything was calm up in the skies and there was a feeling of pure serenity. Being in the clouds felt like being a million miles away from everything; time stood still, and everyday life faded into the distance. My co-pilot told me exactly what to do; small movements, smooth pulls, keep focused. I was flying!
“I remember looking down on the fields below – it was wonderful. The 15 minutes in the air felt like a lifetime and I began to feel like I was a professional pilot. Once we had landed and I was back in the hanger I remember feeling dazed. Did that just really happen? Did I just fly a plane? Yes. Yes, I did!”
|Talking about the longer-term benefits and positive impact of flying a plane, Leah adds:|
“I felt different after the experience. Braver. Stronger. Freer. I had never pushed myself to do anything like this before and I was so proud of myself for doing it. It quickly became a conversation starter in my life, be that on dates, or when out with friends. I was excited to tell people I had done something that other people could only dream of. I had decided to not let my disability define me and to do something no one thought I could. I was very proud of myself for taking up the opportunity.
And on top of all that I made a friendship with Naomi that will last a lifetime. We may live over 250 miles apart, but that one weekend brought us together. Without the flying experience I never would have met the people that I now can’t imagine my life without.”
Leah credits her flying experience with catapulting her life in a new direction and giving her a sense of confidence she didn’t know she had. It gave her a new vision of what a brighter future could look like.
On Becoming an MHF Ambassador
After her flying adventure and seeing and experiencing the work of MHF first-hand, Leah became passionate about sharing the charity’s amazing work.
“For a small family- centred charity, what they offer is bigger than I could have imagined. It’s about so much more than flying a plane or racing a sports car; it’s about having that moment that’s all yours, to achieve something great and to belong to a family and community long after the experience is over.
“When Michael contacted me about possibly helping out on other Muscle Dreams experiences as an Ambassador, I’ll admit I didn’t know quite what that meant at first, but I jumped at the chance. I quickly learned my role would be an important one but also fun.
My role involves promoting the amazing work that the charity does whenever and wherever I can; this is the easy bit, as I could go on and on for many, many, hours about how amazing MHF is and the inspiring work Michael, Sue and the team do.
It also involves supporting with other Muscle Dreams – who wouldn’t want to see other young people in their element as they have their own experiences? And finally, it’s about being a positive role model for all the people who want to apply for a Muscle Dream but haven’t plucked up the courage yet. I hope that by sharing my experience it will encourage others to just go for it.”
When asked why The Muscle Help Foundation charity is so unique and why it holds a special place in her heart:
“There are so many charities out there who all do wonderful things, but there is something about MHF that I have yet to find anywhere else. I know there are 657 muscles in the body, but the biggest muscle in this charity is their heart.
They are such a passionate and welcoming charity. It really is like being part of a family. It’s about much more than a few hours of a fun adventure and then you leave – the connection and community are there for a lifetime. It’s the emotional support, the laughter, the personalisation, the full tummies (because no one goes hungry on Michael’s watch). Your part of a family, they are there for you always.
“When you support this charity, you are supporting a genuine effort to make our very tiny corner of the world where we live with a rare disease, a better place. To support this charity is to put smiles on young people’s faces now and long into the future; young people who might not have had something to smile about in a long while. It’s to see a parent overwhelmed that their child is achieving a dream that they thought not possible. It’s to watch friendships develop, confidence grow, and memories created.”
2023 marks MHF’s 20th Anniversary, a milestone that Leah is proud of not only as a beneficiary, but also in her role as an Ambassador. Thinking ahead to the future, Leah wants to see support for MHF grow so that even more Muscle Dreams can be delivered. She also has a suggestion for Michael:
“I’d love to see Muscle Dream reunions. It will be ten years soon for me and I do love a good party! A reunion would be a chance to relive your Muscle Dream with the people you experienced it with and to remember those who might not be with us anymore.”
Positive impact of Muscle Dreams – Academically Validation
As an Ambassador, Leah frequently finds herself referring to the robust research that was carried out in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire which academically validates the hugely transformational impact Muscle Dreams have not only beneficiaries, but also their families. The research found the charity’s work delivered empowerment, confidence, new skills and a positive outlook to name just a few of the benefits identified.
“I think this is probably the most accurate research conclusion I’ve heard in a long time. For me personally, it really was a transformational moment in my life. Before my experience I was in a bad place mentally. I was struggling to like myself as a person and didn’t like trying anything new.
Since then, I have found a new sense of self-love. I became a public speaker for a while, went back to college to learn a foreign language, had the courage to look for love and met my soon to be husband. The experience taught me I was braver than I ever imagined. I felt empowered for the first time in a long time, and I’ve carried that with me ever since.
“I know that that is the same for so many other Muscle Warrior beneficiaries too having spoken to many of them through social media. So many have taken up new activities, made new friends, and tried new things simply because their Muscle Dream experience showed them that they could.”
Most memorable moment as an Ambassador, so far..
Leah recalls a very special sporting Muscle Dream she attended in her role as an Ambassador – a trip to Twickenham with six beneficiaries to watch the Six Nations rugby.
“I don’t know the first thing about rugby. I know it will sound daft, but it was the coldest, rainiest day I’ve ever known but that didn’t dampen the spirits of either the MHF team or the beneficiaries. When everyone arrived you could tell they were nervous, shy and tended to let their family member, carer or friend who accompanied them do all the talking.
But after just 24 hours they were off exploring with each other, deep in conversation, personalities showing. And of course, watching the rugby was an absolute highlight for everyone. It truly was an honour to see the difference this charity makes.”
Reflecting on the pandemic
Leah, like many of the charity’s beneficiary families, found the pandemic a very challenging time indeed. She also recognises how the charity had to adapt, quickly, to support its vulnerable community.
|Leah adds: |
“COVID-19 was a game changer in a lot of ways. The charity had to adapt to support the community who were struggling. I shielded for seven months. I like many became very isolated, frustrated and withdrawn. I know just how much it affected the past, present and future beneficiaries of the charity.
“Digital communications, especially social media, became a vital tool against this new found isolation and Michael quickly started to utilise the power of digital to communicate with the MHF community across the UK which was great.
I think so many young people and their families appreciated still being able to reach out to one another, to have a friendly voice in the dark and so know they weren’t alone, and the charity was still there with and for them.”
Contact the charity HERE should you have any further questions.