Sophia Malthus was 19 years old when she fell off a racehorse and landed on a fence, breaking her neck and becoming paralysed from the collarbones down. Now at 27, Sophia has experienced a spectrum of physical challenges and emotional responses from life with a spinal cord injury.
Watch Sophia’s interview with Rachel Smalley below as they discuss studying law, incentivising young people to maximise opportunities, and deconstructing the stigma around disability. This is the sixth of a seven-part interview series for WOMAN, where Rachel will be uncovering extraordinary stories from a handful of exceptional kiwi women. Each has their own unique story to tell.
Watch Sophia’s full interview below.
Sophia was slowly eased into the reality of being quadriplegic over the first seven days of being in ICU – with intense periods of anxiety and distress combated with hospital staff increasing medication and putting Sophia to sleep.
“One time, I was lying in ICU, and it was nighttime. And I was thinking, no one’s gonna want to marry me, because I can’t do anything. So I said, ‘maybe I should just commit suicide.’ And then I actually audibly laughed, because I was lying there and I couldn’t move and I was like, ‘how am I gonna commit suicide?’ That’s how little I had, I couldn’t even have the power to take my own life.” Fortunately, Sophia has adapted to the injury with incredible spirit. “I always tell myself that I’m the best quadriplegic that I know!”
Sophia tells Rachel about the importance of language and the best way to approach someone with a disability if you have any questions.
“I’m more than happy to answer questions from people if they are asked in a polite way. Questions about my body or my wheelchair, I’m more than happy to show them how my hands work or how my wheels work. But it’s when they ask me ‘What happened to you?’, and they feel like they are entitled to hear about the most traumatic day in my life.”
“We’re not something to be scared of. And I think the thing that I love the most is when young kids are empowered by their parents to come and ask me questions, because I want kids to grow up in a world where they understand. It’s really disheartening when I can hear a parent in the supermarket say ‘don’t look, don’t go and ask questions’, because that’s just increasing the stigma for disabled people.”