A former Team GB hopeful from Lancashire has been recognised on the international stage for her tireless campaigning work for Lyme Disease.
Sophie Ward, who presents on community radio station Chorley FM, has been short-listed at the upcoming European Diversity Awards for the Campaigner Of The Year award.
It comes after the 24-year-old was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a decade ago following a trip to Beijing as part of her dreams to be an Olympic swimmer for Team GB.
While in Beijing she contracted the disease on a trip to visit pandas, where it is believed she was bitten by a tick.
Around four years later at the age of 18, Sophie began experiencing ill health with different ailments including recurring water infections, migraines, food intolerances and sore throats – and was only diagnosed with the disease at the age of 23.
Now, despite her own health issues, Sophie dedicates her time to raising awareness about Lyme Disease, writing a personal blog on her experiences, and heads up Lyme Disease UK as an administration member.
Speaking about the nomination, Sophie a former Kirkham Grammar School pupil, said: “I was absolutely blown away. There’s tough competition from a lot of people that do amazing things.
“Lyme Disease is still unknown to people, it’s not like cancer, so for something like this to be recognised is a great thing.
“If I do win it would be the greatest thing ever for not just me, but Lyme Disease as a whole.
In September, Sophie was one of six, from more than 24,000 people, short-listed at the Disability at the National Diversity Awards for the Positive Role Model for Disability category.
“To be nominated for the UK is one thing but on the European stage...it’s overwhelming,” Sophie explained.
“[Lyme Disease] is becoming a big problem with the climate becoming warmer and there being ticks throughout the year, not just in season.”
Sophie’s work with Lyme Disease UK sees them provide help and support for some 9,000 members.
Sophie, who lives in Garstang, said: “Some people are very suicidal because they are being dismissed by family and doctors.
“They think they are crazy and making it up – but they aren’t.”
Part of the problem for Sophie is that symptoms vary from person to person, as well as the affect of medicine in combatting the disease.
“There’s not one single effective treatment,” she explained.
“I know one person who spent £50,000 for just four months of treatment.
“We don’t want it to spread and get as bad as HIV. That’s why we work so hard to campaign for awareness and better funding.”
Other nominees on the night include journalist Victoria Derbyshire, whose BBC Two show Sophie appeared on last week where she discussed hernia mesh implants and the pain and suffering that people living with Lyme Disease have to deal with every day.
Victoria Derbyshire took to Twitter praising Sophie for being “candid and open and courageous”.
“Hopefully Victoria’s schedule allows her to come to the awards as it would be lovely to catch up with her,” Sophie said.
The award ceremony takes place at the Natural History Museum in London on Thursday, November 29.
• Visit Sophie’s blog at: www.sophantastic.org