Maria Schubert is an active lady that loves to do yoga both on the ground and in the air! After many years of being “clumsy”, she was finally diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia. Read on to learn more about Maria’s inspirational story.
I was born into a non-English speaking family in Wollongong, New South Wales. Unbeknown to us at that time, my brother and I both inherited cerebellar ataxia. I had suffered severe bouts of constipation all through my life and when I was about four years old I contracted a contagious disease, possibly scarlet fever or hepatitis which landed me in an isolation room at the children’s hospital. I have no records, just memories of not being able to see my family for some time.
Unlike my brother, who could ride a bike and climb fences, I could only manage a small bike with training wheels and struggled with climbing fences. This was during a time of compulsory school sports.
I remember falling backward off the vaulting horse in gymnastics onto a wooden springboard because of my lack of balance and coordination. This totally destroyed my confidence through the lack of understanding of the sports teachers not being aware of any mobility conditions and the school system in general.
Life goes on—I just thought I was clumsy and became embarrassed in certain situations whenever I fell over or was slow, my brother always egged me on… “come on…” he would say, “don’t be a woose”, (Aussie slang for someone scared to do something a bit dangerous).
Being born on the coast, I loved the sound of the beach but was frightened of the water—at that stage possibly because of our unknown condition and lack of muscle strength, which I now know as proprioception as well as a lack of stability to cope with the surf. It took until my twenties before I learned to swim, it was in a heated pool—that was where my love for exercise began—finally, I felt safe in the water.
I was married in my early twenties and from that time on I became a happy, strong swimmer, not worried about falling over or drowning LOL. All of a sudden my focus was not on my clumsiness.
We moved to Orange, a country town in New South Wales. I quickly investigated the local heated pool where I started doing laps. I was approached by a pool attendant who offered me free entry if I would help out with some disabled children once a week—how ironic—I love children, it was a perfect match and great for a pregnant ataxian with a bump LOL. I then found aqua fitness and swimming, which was a match made in heaven, I started to forget how clumsy I was LOL.
My aqua fitness friend Pat asked me if I would like to teach swimming classes, so I enrolled in Aust Swim and Pre School Water Confidence training, which became another love of mine.
My love for the water overrode the sensitivity I had developed to the constant soaking in chlorine after five years—bugger!
Anyway Pat introduced me to a very low-impact aerobic class at the gym. So here I was again doing this overriding thing, following my heart, and threw myself into more exercise—the story of my newfound life.
I worked at many different jobs, one of them was telemarketing which was short and sweet, as I started to slur my speech and sounded drunk, I gave that up LOL.
One of my many other talents, apart from raising a family, was cleaning in a psychiatric hospital in Orange. During my time there I started to notice more symptoms emerging like nausea and vomiting, which were quite frequent. I needed to lean against the wall for stability when using a mop and bucket and so on.
I thought it might be my ears, it was suggested tinnitus or perhaps Meniere’s disease, so it was off to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to no avail. I’m still trying to do the overriding thing by trying to live life with ataxia lurking around the corner just waiting to catch me LOL.
Then in my thirties and tired of cleaning, I was in need of a new direction. I landed a job as a trainer/cleaner for people with disabilities and combined my cleaning experience with my swim coaching experience and another love for people with disabilities, still overriding my unknown condition with a strong will to keep moving.
Ok, so then in my forties and another new direction, “if I don’t do it now I might not have the courage to do it”. I left my whole life behind, packed up, and moved up north to Queensland, a 12-hour drive with the overriding thing again.
So here I am—new life, new symptoms, more nausea, hand and fingers twitching more, gait problems but new supportive friendships. I met my friend Stormie who taught an indigenous form of healing and transformation bodywork, based on a mix of Maori, Aboriginal, and Hawaiian kahuna massage styles, with a “you can do it attitude”. I love her so much.
There I was, being a body for her students to practice on in her training sessions, to eventually becoming a bodyworker myself and trusting that I could do it. Apparently, my ability was the fact that I held onto the bodies well, and they received pulsing at the same time.
After some time it became harder and harder to carry my massage table and falls were more frequent causing more injuries.
Finally, my doctor requested an MRI in 2003, I was finally diagnosed with SCA unknown type. His description was just that I had “the cerebellum of a burnt-out drunk in the gutter”, I cried, my heart sank and mild depression set in. In the past I had drunk small amounts of alcohol as a young person compared to most, so his diagnosis didn’t make sense.
Life took a turn but I found the love of my life who didn’t care if I was ‘whoopsie’. Exercise, nutrition, and researching this condition with all its twists and turns became really important to me because there was no known cure.
Friends, family, volunteer work in the schools teaching spiritual RE became my focus until it became physically difficult. I also found yoga and met my first circus teacher in Queensland. We did some acro yoga—a combination of acrobatics and yoga—and from there I had the inspiration to do yoga in the air—totally forgot I had a disability, which is another love of mine—modified for ataxia LOL.
I have broken my right foot and a major break in the left ankle which resulted in a 3-month hospital stay several years ago.
I firmly believe in following your heart, it can override many obstacles, it’s worth your investment.
My daughter introduced me to circus training many years ago, although the trapeze was difficult for me, I found an alternative called Aerial yoga, a new love.
So once again I’m not worried about falling over. It is nurturing and helps with knowing where your body is in time and space also to build core strength because I’m supported in the hammock. I did this for several years at a local gym and when this wound down, after several teachers left, I finally found a wonderful teacher who understood my condition. I was able to continue with this through the lockdowns, exercise is luckily classified as an essential service. We are both working towards my new goal of teaching one-on-one how to use the hammock for a version called restorative aerial yoga with a lot of supported floor work. I now have my own hammock installed at home so I can exercise at any time. The cerebellum controls internal organs as well as motor skills. It has become a lifelong journey practicing early interventions and learning to live with the twists and turns.
Life is too short, so follow your heart and trust you’ll always be guided to the right thing, the right place, and the right people to help with your support needs and goals.
Thank you Maria Schubert for your encouraging words and for the reminder to pursue hobbies and activities that make you happy!
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