The idea of becoming a world champion sportsperson is a pipedream for most but for 20-year-old Glenavy woman Joy Fleming, it seemed like impossibility after she suffered from two brain haemorrhages and a stroke when she was aged just 17.
Almost three years later, after learning to walk and talk again, Joy has beaten the odds and has gained the title of World Powerlifting Champion for her weight class.
Her story started when she was at Hunterhouse College where, encouraged by her uncle, Joy took up powerlifting and discovered that, not only was she good at it, she had a real talent. In 2008 just before she became ill, Joy was the reigning European Champion for her weight (63kg) and she was due to represent Northern Ireland at the World Championships in Indianapolis.
Joy was playing hockey when, with no warning, she collapsed on the pitch. After being taken to the hospital and undergoing tests, the doctors told Joy’s parents that she had taken a brain haemorrhage and that they would have to operate. During the operation on her brain she had another haemorrhage which lead to a stroke – at this stage Joy’s parents did not think she would survive the operation
Joy did survive the operation she was diagnosed with AVM or Arteriovenus Malformation an abnormal connection between veins and arteries which is usually congenital. She was told that she would have to decide between open brain surgery and radiosurgery in Sheffield. She opted for the latter, however before travelling Joy had to be taught to do the most basic of things that we all take for granted, like walking and talking. Joy’s consultant at the time told her that she would most likely never Powerlift again and that she would not be allowed to do anything strenuous until she was fully healed – at this stage Joy felt that her life was ruined and that there was no hope for the future.
Gradually, and after a lot of frustration, Joy learned to walk and talk again and she went in 2009 to Sheffield where she was to have her radiosurgery. While she was there she was told that she could powerlift again, Joy felt that this was a turning point and raised her spirits. The operation was successful but as it takes time to take effect Joy has a 2/3 year period to go before she is out of the woods.
Following her recuperation, Joy felt that she wanted a fresh start and enrolled at South Eastern Regional College (SERC) on a two year BTEC National Diploma in Sport. She found the combination of her course along with recuperating and powerlifting and tough but she finished her first year with a straight distinction profile and is on track to pass her course with the highest possible results – the equivalent to three grade A’s at A-level.
After the disappointment of missing out on the World Championships in the USA in 2008, Joy came back to powerlifting with gusto! Within two years she was back on top of her game – she qualified for the 2010 World Championships which were held in Castleblaney in November – she came away with the title of ‘World Champion’ for her weight class.
Joy is a truly inspirational person who has been through the toughest of battles over the past 3 years she has proved that through hard work and positive mental attitude you can get through most things. Joy is keen to progress on to university to do a sports-related degree but her overarching ambition is to become a fire-fighter and help save people’s lives.
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