HOLLY WHALING: Relearning to walk before the catwalk
A teen who was wheelchair-bound for over a year taught herself how to walk again - just in time to walk the catwalk in a national modelling competition.
Holly Whaling was a keen gymnast and dancer before a severe joint condition she'd struggled with for years left her wheelchair-bound for over a year.
The teen, from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, feared she’d never walk again after surgery in 2019 failed to correct the condition.
But after a second surgery she taught herself to walk again and was just back on her feet again using crutches when she learned that she had reached the final of a teen modelling competition.
Mum Emma had secretly submitted an online application on Holly's behalf.
Approaching the grand final, the race was on for Holly to not only be able to stand up and take steps without crutches, but strut down the catwalk in pursuit of the crown.
The teen said it motivated her to persevere with the slow and gruelling process of re-learning how to walk.
With just a couple of weeks until the final next month, she's catwalk ready and able to strut unsupported
Holly said: “When my legs got really bad, I was gutted to give up gymnastics and dancing, but it was way too painful to continue.
“I always liked modelling so when I couldn’t do my other hobbies any more, it felt like a better option for me – but I was in total shock when I learned I had got through to the final.
“There were points where I never even thought I’d stand again, never mind walk on a catwalk – but it motivated me to keep practicing and improving my walking, no matter how painful and difficult it was.
“It was a long and slow process, and there were a lot of setbacks, but now I feel ready to give it my all on the catwalk.
“I feel like all the hard work I have put in to get to this moment has paid off – and I’m going to feel like a winner no matter whether I get a crown or not because it’s a celebration of how far I have come.”
Holly trained up to five times a week, before beginning to experience pain in her legs and joints aged 12 which worsened and prevented her from walking without supports.
She was diagnosed with joint hypermobility syndrome, which affects connective tissues, and led to her eventually having an operation in April 2019.
Despite recovering and being able to walk again, just four months later the condition returned - and by November it was so severe she was wheelchair bound.
The teen was forced to give up her active lifestyle - and feared she'd never walk again after the pandemic shelved any non-urgent surgeries.
Throughout that year she began dabbling with amateur sit-down photoshoots but prayed one day she'd be back on her feet again.
The teen underwent the surgery in November, but didn't bounce back as she had the first time - and discovered she had to go through the agonising process of learning how to walk again from scratch.
Holly recalled: "It was too painful to even try and walk for a couple of months after the surgery.
"I really did wonder if I'd ever walk again.
"But I had to try - I would take tiny steps for a few minutes per day and eventually build up."
She recalled how she could hardly notice her own progress and so began filming herself each day to see how she got stronger.
By March, she was able to tenderly walk with crutches - at which point mum Emma secretly entered an online application for Holly to compete in a pageant contest called Miss Teen Top Model Girl UK 2021.
Weeks later the shocked teen learned what her mum had done, when she was informed she had made it to the live final in October.
Suddenly the race was on for Holly, who had spent months just re-learning how to stand - and in a few more would be expected to ditch her crutches and walk a live runway to compete for a crown.
She explained: "I started wondering if I'd be ready at all - would I even be able to walk the runway?
"But I knew it was a risk I had to take."
Despite the odds being stacked against her - such as several painful setbacks including injuring her hip after falling while practicing walking at school - her perseverance paid off.
Holly says she now feels ready to ditch her crutches and strut her stuff on October 10.
But after being wheelchair-bound just several months earlier, Holly told how regardless of the outcome of the competition, she will be a winner in her own eyes.
She said: "I couldn't even stand up at the start of this year - I've come a long way.
"I've not even competed yet but I'm already so proud of myself - but I can't wait to walk the catwalk, which is what I'm most excited for.
"All the hard work I've put in has paid off and the final will feel like a celebration of myself and how hard I have worked - no matter what outcome."
(Words: SWNS | Amy Reast)
(Video: Leeds TV)
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