#MightyWomanMonday: Sophia Malthus

Facing challenges with courage and resilience

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August 31, 2020 Abigail Uttley

Sophia Malthus currently resides in Auckland, however, her favourite spot to visit is her hometown; the sunny city of Nelson. She is definitely a dog, not cat, person and comes from a super blended family that has blessed her with 4 brothers and two sisters. Sophia has gone through some big life changes - with a horse-riding injury, at the age of 19, leaving her a tetraplegic. It is safe to say that she is a young woman who has adapted to these changes with great courage and resilience!

Sophia will soon become a familiar household face, gracing our TV screens as a character in the TVNZ OnDemand teen comedy web series, MEME. We were honoured to have the opportunity to interview Sophia and find out a bit more about this courageous young woman. 

 

Comfort food of choice?

Anything that I cook myself. I spent a year eating hospital food, and before that, I had 5 years of boarding school food, so being able to prepare my own meals is an ability I’m very grateful for. I don’t know if it’s the process of cooking or the actual eating itself, but it definitely brings me a lot of comfort. 

 

You have a dog that features in your life. What is her best or worst habit?

Ah yes - Martha! Her best trait is that she is incredibly sleepy due to the greyhound in her, but this also seconds as one of her worst traits. I fell out of my chair a few months ago and she didn’t even leave her bed to come to check on me! 

 

Do you have a film or book that changed your life, or you merely watched or read more than once?

I’m not much of a film watcher, but a few years before my injury I fell in love with the French film ‘The Intouchables,’ which is a true story of the relationship between an older wealthy man who had a paragliding accident leaving him paralysed, and a young black man who unintentionally gets hired to be his caregiver. I recommend it to everyone! I love the film even more now, as I can relate to the story so strongly since I’m in the same position. 

 

You have stated that one of your biggest “flaws” cannot be hidden anymore: “the wheelchair is 100% the first thing people see, so I do my best to own and embrace it. I strive to come across as a confident young woman so that society’s perception of the disabled community is challenged.” 

This is an admirable goal, could you elaborate on some of the key things you want to see changed, or to raise awareness of, in terms of how society treats or perceives the disabled community?

Thank you! There’s so much, I don’t know where to start. I want people to feel comfortable seeing me struggle if I’m trying to do something independently because I know that I’m capable of asking for help when I need it. I think a lot of the time people rush to help me because they feel uneasy watching me take 3 minutes to get out of the car, but keep in mind that most disabled people have very specific techniques when doing things like that, and helping without being asked or guided can make it significantly harder (and more dangerous). I also wish people wouldn’t congratulate me for leaving the house and accessing the community - I know these comments come from a good place, but it becomes a little condescending after a while. 

 

You have gone through a massive upheaval and lifestyle change (understatement of the year) after your accident. Adapting is a hard and ongoing process, I’m sure.

What would be a few honest reflections and recommendations you would share with others who also have, or are, facing unexpected changes or circumstances?

Mourning your old life is okay, but don’t dwell on it. Things happen for a reason, we are all on different paths and obviously this is the path intended for you. Look, I wouldn’t be here doing this interview and being on the Y25 list if it wasn’t for my accident! 

 

Has anyone guided or supported you so far? Can you share who and how they helped you?

The disabled community (specifically spinal cord injuries) on Instagram has been a huge part of me coming to terms with my new body and life. 82% of SCI patients in NZ are guys, so having access to women in chairs all over the world is so powerful and inspiring. We all support each other and share techniques and tips, which has been invaluable. Especially because the support you get in hospital and rehab is usually from able-bodied occupational therapists and physiotherapists who have no idea what it’s like to live like this. 

 

You feature as a character on the TVNZ OnDemand teen comedy web series, MEME.

What was the experience like being on that show? Also, was there a particular actress you CHANNELED when acting?

Yes! That was so fun and completely out of my comfort zone. I was a bit worried about memorising my lines because I have a minor TBI from my accident, but I think I did pretty okay for my first time. I admire the production team so much for casting a genuinely disabled actor to play Sandi, and I think I unintentionally taught most of the crew how I use a catheter to empty my bladder, so that was cool haha - the more awareness, the better, right?!

I absolutely did not channel anyone, I’m far too inexperienced as an actor to have anything going through my mind other than my lines!! 

 

Lastly, if there was one piece of advice that you could give to other young women growing up in today’s society, what would it be? 

Everything happens for a reason, so try not to stress about it all. Take it in your stride!

Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper. It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative stuff happening in your life, but it’s totally not worth your energy!

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