Back in 1994, the occupant of that student room at the University of Derby was Giselle Ruoss. At the age of 25, she was taking a BA Hons degree in English and Psychology whilst completing her D of E gold award alongside her studies. In order to pass her gold, Giselle had decided to abseil in the Brecon Beacons.
Nothing too extraordinary about that I hear you say – except that Giselle Ruoss cannot walk.
“You know you hear of mums and dads complaining about toddlers rummaging through everything? Well mine actually opened all the drawers, took anything dangerous out of them and urged me to do exactly that,” explains Giselle, “but although my mind was willing, my body was unable and I was soon diagnosed with quadraplegia, a form of Cerebral Palsy in which all four limbs are affected.”
Knowing her as I do, I imagine Giselle would be slightly annoyed with me describing her abseiling down the Brecon Beacons as an extraordinary feat. “I’m no different to anybody else,” she says adamantly. “Just because I need a ‘hunk of junk’ to transport me around doesn’t mean I’m not the same on the inside!” Her sense of humour is always uppermost. “I was given a fireman’s lift to the top of the Brecon cliff and he tripped over. I looked at him and exclaimed ‘if it’s this scary on the way up, what on earth is it going to be like on the way down?” she giggles. Giselle giggles a lot. One of the most infectious and mischievous giggles you’re ever likely to hear.
No matter how scary the abseiling was, Giselle conquered it and was told that of the 100 people who went on the course, she was one of the 22 selected to go on a trip of a lifetime to China. “It was amazing spending Christmas Day on the Great Wall, but what made the trip even more so was the fact that the two less able bodied of us who were picked to attend didn’t have carers with us. It was just the D of E’ers that looked after us. I made some life-long friends on that trip as you can imagine!”
Giselle honours her parents for bringing her up with such a ‘can do’ attitude. “For example, I couldn’t make it to the youth club, so my mum brought the youth club to me. We used to have kids roller skating about the place. My mum and dad just thought if we’ve got my four big wheels already in the house, why not have lots of little ones too!”
In 1999, Giselle lost her Mum to cancer and in 2005 her Dad was diagnosed with the disease as well. “It was a horrendous time,” she recalls, “but it spurred me on to achieve something that I never thought possible. I decided to throw myself out of an aeroplane to raise money for the Macmillan Nurses as they had been so wonderful to my family. I was an absolute nervous wreck for two days prior to the jump but on the day I was very calm.
Dropping through the air was amazing. The feeling of freedom overwhelming. Plus I was strapped to a particularly hunky instructor too! He let me borrow his legs for the drop”. A memorable time for another reason too, Giselle’s father was given the all-clear and she had raised £2,000 for completing the jump.
So…what does an action girl do day to day to keep her brain busy and her body active? Well just last week she took herself off from her home in Ware to Liverpool Street on her own to go window shopping. On the day of our photo shoot, Giselle’s carer spotted a notice in the local post office: ‘good home required for a Jack Russell dog’ – suffice to say Lucky the dog moved in to Giselle’s home that very day (which will keep them both busy!).
The week before Giselle was clubbing with a student she was mentoring. “When I was young I always wanted to teach, so I followed up my degree by starting a teaching diploma. Since then I’ve worked as editor of Jigsaw magazine; also for a company called Realife (an advocacy organisation for disabled people); and a tutor at Hertford Regional College which reignited my passion for tutoring.”
Through her company ‘Outside The Box Education Ltd’, Giselle’s unique, inspirational personal tutoring has been experienced by over 40 individual students. Her highlights include helping one young girl move her Maths GCSE grade from an E to a B. Another pupil gained a scholarship to the Bishop’s Stortford College and she is enjoying working with two Bengali students to improve their language skills. “I have an independent existence, living in a modified flat with 24 hour support from my carer, Chris. Thanks must go to my parents for integrating me into ‘normal’ life from an early age. But ever eager to add further strings to her bow, Giselle is currently writing an NVQ course on diversity in the workplace and pursuing her goal to become a motivational public speaker (and true to form, she’s already won an award from her regional toastmaster association).
Determined and focused, Giselle is one resourceful lady. When she puts her mind and boundless energy towards something, consider it done. And with such a compelling bag full of stories to tell, and enough charm to hold an audience in the palm of her hand, the public are going to love hearing all about Giselle’s life outside the box.