Jon McFarlane

March 9, 2023

Jon McFarlane

What do you do?

I am final year PhD researcher in economics and part of the Scottish national Cerebral Palsy Football squad. In addition, I am an ambassador for cerebral palsy Scotland.

What has been your greatest achievement?

For me one of my greatest achievements was playing in the CP world championships last year. I suffered a back injury a few years ago and I had doubted whether I could play properly again. However, I worked so hard to get back into the national squad doing extra fitness and football sessions for a year and a half. The rest of the squad were extremely supportive through the whole process and seeing how hard that they work inspired me to do the same. I played in the World Championships final and although the result didn’t go our way it was internal and external proof that anything can be achieved with hard work and dedication.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge in life is being able to adapt to be able to do things that able people potentially take for granted. I have grown up trying to disguise the fact that I had a disability, through using little tricks and humour. If I laugh at myself first then that’s okay.  This is tough on the mind. I was anxious that people would think differently of me if they “found out”. Periodically this has persisted in adulthood but now I know that thinking like that is completely ridiculous. People in general are concerned about whether you are a good person or not. That’s it.

I have a few light hearted examples of day-to-day tasks that able people potentially take for granted that have been challenging for me.

  1. Tying laces – tough task. I learned through the help of physiotherapists when I was younger to tie my laces with one hand (Great party trick).
  2. Using a ruler – Straight forward enough for most however, I couldn’t keep the ruler stable on the page with my affected hand so I used blue tack on the back on the ruler to stick to the page and therefore it would be stabilised.
  3. Shaking people’s hands – Growing up when I was meeting new people, going for interviews etc I would be literally sweating thinking about shaking hands with people. “A good hand shake is crucial for a first impression” was never a thing that I wanted to hear. I would practice it over and over in my mind and when it came to it my eyes would be fixed on my hand making sure that it would perform the hand shake. If unsuccessfully I would awkwardly use my left hand. This was only good thing about the pandemic for me hand shake turned to fist pumps (and no particular hand specified). This was great news for me.
  4. Keyboard shortcuts – Have you ever tried to do a three-button keyboard shortcut with one hand? Not easy (sometimes impossible). It was only very recently I realised there is a sticky keys function – that helps a lot.

Who was your role-model growing up?

This is the easiest question by far for me. My role model growing up was my twin brother. For me he set the benchmark for what could be achieved, and I basically just copied him! (I am making it sound far easier than the reality).

He had and still has an ability to be the best that he can be at anything that he does through dedicating time and effort, and he continually wanted to try new things. For example when he started to learn to cycle, I wanted to learn to cycle and although it took me longer I still strived to do it.

We played tennis a little when we were younger and learning to throw the ball up for serve with my CP hand – now there’s a challenge if you have ever heard one. But we dropped the rackets and stood on the street continually practicing throwing the ball in the air. I was determined to do it. Day after day I noticed small progress and James would say “you’re getting there … keep going”. It took me a while but eventually I got there. I could do it and therefore be able to serve overhand.  In hindsight I wonder what the neighbours were thinking. This seems a small trivial thing but for me it meant that I could blend in.

When he joined a football team, I wanted to join the same team (which I did). I competed in “mainstream” football, mostly as a substitute but it was being part of the team that mattered to me.

When he started to play the piano … I started to … no that’s pushing it! But the point here is that we can all achieve things that are outside the realms of what we think is possible. We all have a different potential, and the key is to do everything that you can to reach the potential.

The progress in developing these skills may have happened at different rates (and a few falls and injuries along the way) but he continually provided the motivation through his supportive words and through his actions I was able to achieve the be the best that I can be.

He probably doesn’t understand the magnitude of what he has helped me to achieve (But hopefully he does now in some capacity). The key to this success is that I never felt that he felt sorry for me. He always believed in me over anyone else growing up that I could achieve anything I wanted. Life is a team sport and I think we are the epitome of that!

My mum and dad were okay too I suppose! But that is for another day.

What do you think would help more adults with CP achieve their ambitions?

I think firstly being open about challenges that face people with CP face is important. Communicate these with your family, friends, and colleagues. Let’s get people talking about it – share your funny stories, share your heart-breaking stories. This month is CP awareness month it is important that the public become aware of the challenges faced by people with CP and their families. These conversations can make a big difference in terms of awareness and therefore confidence of people with CP to talk about their challenges and how others can help them along the way. Through a better understanding there will be less challenges and barriers in place and therefore more opportunities to achieve ambitions.

Secondly, the people around you are crucial. I am lucky to have my two brothers, my fiancée, my mum and my dad who are fully supportive of all the things that I want to do. It is important to have this close circle who you can share your thoughts and feelings and hear different perspectives on life in general. They understand the challenges that I face and positively help me to overcome them. I am extremely grateful for them. These people continue to support me in achieving my goals and help me to raise awareness for CP. “Make friends with people who want the best for you”.

The public should be aware that CP is a disability that affects children and ADULTS and therefore support should be available for everyone with CP. We are problem solvers by circumstance and have the ability to think outside the box. These are essential skills in today’s society and if the right level of support is in place, then we can use these skills to make positive contributions to society.  It is important to understand that everyone’s CP is different and therefore different people need different support. That support should be available.