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England hockey hopeful Gabriella McAlister must learn to walk again


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An aspiring young hockey player on the path to play for England is having to learn to walk again after suffering two massive seizures.

Gabriella McAlister, a goalkeeper at Cliftonville Hockey Club, is tipped as a rising star of the game and last year made it through the tough, week-long selection process in the England Hockey trials.

Gabriella McCalister has been forced to used a wheelchair after the seizures affected her ability to walk
Gabriella McCalister has been forced to used a wheelchair after the seizures affected her ability to walk

But in January the 16-year-old, who has Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), suffered two long seizures, one after the other, resulting in complete memory loss and the inability to speak or walk.

She has managed to regain her speech and the use of one leg, but is in a wheelchair and unable to take more than four or five steps.

Her dad, Pete, says her dream is to wear the England rose, and even when she first started having mini-seizures while at junior school she "just got on with it" and continued to play.

Joining Cliftonville Hockey Club, who he says has been like a family to them, she was selected to play for the ladies team at 13, with the other players "taking her under their wing".

But for years Gabriella, who has just started sixth form at Simon Langton in Canterbury, suffered seizures, with paramedics frequently at the family home.

"Even all through this she was playing hockey," he said. "She would do whatever she could to play; it's her life and it's her dream to wear the England rose.

Gabriella McCalister with her dad Pete
Gabriella McCalister with her dad Pete

"She went to the England trials, which were over five days, and I told her to 'just enjoy the ride', but then she started getting through each trial and was selected in the final three players.

"Then in January she had a double seizure out of the blue. Her mum went up to her room and she was having one - we had to just stand there and wait for her to come out of it.

"When she did she had no idea who we were and we thought 'that's a bit different' - then she went back into a second one and when it stopped she couldn't speak.

"Her whole world just went in that moment."

But Pete, who was a plumber and has had to stop work to be Gabriella's carer, says his daughter has been "unreal" through it all.

He says she's even still there at the hockey club, behind the goal net coaching the players who are filling in for her while she recovers.

"It's her world and she loves it; she smiles and laughs when she's there," he said. "She's getting all the banter that she's missed."

Talented hockey keeper Gabriella McCalister with her teammates
Talented hockey keeper Gabriella McCalister with her teammates

Pete says Gabriella cannot feel her right leg and has to get around in an electric wheelchair.

"It is reversible but we don't know how long it will take, or when it could happen," he said.

"FND is to do with the nervous system and how the brain receives signals."

Pete admits he believes Gabriella's previous seizures were warnings that she needed to slow down, but says he would never have got in the way of her fulfilling her dream, which began when she was just seven and fell in love with the sport.

For now, the family, who have moved from Broadstairs to Ash, are trying to adjust to their lives changing and funding the specialist care and equipment she needs.

Friend Charlotte Rintoul has launched a campaign to help raise money towards Gabriella's recovery.

"It includes carer's fees and other equipment that she may need in the future," said Charlotte.

Gabriella McCalister in action
Gabriella McCalister in action

"She needs a lot of rehab and therapy and we want to do what we can to help."

A Cliftonville Hockey Club event is being held at Broadstairs Cricket Club on September 25 at 7pm to kick-start the hockey season and also raise money for Gabriella.

Tickets are £5 and available at www.cliftonvillehockey.co.uk/villains-den-grand-opening/

To donate to the campaign for Gabriella click here.

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