A young Chichester man hopes to inspire people to achieve their dreams whatever their situation or background.
Luis Coward, who was diagnosed with a muscle wasting disease at birth, was not expected to reach his teenage years. But at the age of 25, he has become a mixed martial arts fighter and has a passion he wants to share with others.
A video posted on Luis’s Facebook page has had around 70,000 views as it captures his fight at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) British Open, in Brighton, with an abled bodied competitor. Despite losing the fight, Luis receives a standing ovation.
“I would rather do things my way. It may be difficult for other people but the way I do it, I do things differently. I want to help other people who are in the same situation as me. I want to get more people to do things like mixed martial arts,” said Luis, who fights without his wheelchair and is placed on the mat by his trainer.
For the first 18 months of his life, doctors wrongly diagnosed Luis with cerebral palsy. Now more than two and a half decades later, he is still no closer to getting an accurate diagnosis of his condition which is believed to be genetic. However, he is determined not to let this get the better of him.
Luis’s mother Marie Coward said that growing up the family never treated Luis any differently to his two younger brothers.
Marie, said: “Because he is such a strong willed person, he knows what he wants to do and he will fight for it. Things have been possible for Luis because he is such a determined young guy.”
Currently studying a Diploma in Introduction to Health, Social Care and Children’s and Young People’s Settings at Chichester College, Luis is able to use his personal experience to give his fellow students a unique insight into providing care. Luis previously went to Treloar School for Disabled Children, in Alton, when he was 16, and studied at St Anthony’s School, in Chichester, when he was growing up. He was the first person at St Anthony’s to need a wheelchair but his mother Marie said the support the teachers gave Luis was really significant as they made a great deal of adaptions to enable him to get around more easily.
“When I was younger I remember saying to my mum, ‘I’m worried that at the age of 10, I won’t be able to do anything myself’. Now I am at college and I can help people. I have been through it so I understand how to do it,” said Luis, who has been supported by the Child Disability Team, at West Sussex County Council.
Last year Luis, who chooses not to use an electric wheelchair, took up mixed martial arts after a visit to Grit Gym in Chichester. It has since become a passion which has grown rapidly thanks to his trainer.
Luis has already won a number of medals at nationwide competitions including the Southern International BJJ Open 2015, the English Open BJJ Championships 2015, and Bournemouth BJJ Open 2015.
“I think people underestimate me. I have managed to get a black belt into a hold he couldn’t get out of. At the gym, we all push each other to our limits so they don’t treat me any differently to anyone else. If it wasn’t for my trainer then I wouldn’t be where I am,” said Luis.
Luis describes one of the hardest parts of his life as when his family had to see him in hospital on morphine and hooked up to a drip. Family has played a huge part in his life including extra help from the family dog, a French bullmastiff named Dizzy who even helps him to get changed.
However, things haven’t always been plain sailing and there have been some unfortunate incidents which have left him feeling annoyed at people’s lack of understanding of his needs. On many occasions it has been people’s good intentions which have put Luis on the wrong end of people’s charity.
There have been times when he has been mistaken for someone begging whilst he has been innocently waiting outside a corner shop – shops are often not adapted for his wheelchair so he has to wait for his family/friend to come back out. There was also an incident when his parents were criticised for making him go outside in the cold despite him already saying that he was fine.
Because of this, Luis wants to widen people’s understanding of disabilities.
“What me and my brother have been doing is producing a video of my fighting, the gym, adventures and what we can do. I hate it when people say I can’t do it,” said Luis.
“I know I can’t do everything but I’d rather do things myself. I don’t want to be on benefits but if I didn’t have benefits then I couldn’t do what I do now. I want to get a job that I love doing. I want to become a professional fighter but I’m not at that level yet.”
Luis, who is looking out for sponsorship opportunities, is now in his last year in college and looking ahead to his future. To view Luis’s video visit his Facebook page www.facebook.com/luis.coward.