The Attitude Awards are an annual celebration of people living with disabilities, and athlete Anna Taylor has been nominated in the Sporting Endeavour category. The ceremony will take place on December 2 and be broadcast at 4pm, Sunday, December 13 on TVNZ1.
I was apparently quite a difficult child, challenging and stubborn. As a toddler, I threw my share of tantrums, so when I was 3 my parents threw me into swimming, probably hoping to tame me a little, and use up some of my endless energy.
I was swimming competitively from the age of 8 and it was then I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics.
As the fourth child of five growing up in Taupō, our family life was busy and we were lucky to be sent to board at St Peter's in Cambridge from Year 11.
Initially, I didn't want to go. I enjoyed school in Taupō, and I would miss my friends, so Mum signed me up for rowing and I went to a camp before I'd even started at the school. I knew nothing about rowing, but Mum knew I would make friends through sport.
I've always had a competitive spirit, but it took a while for rowing to click. I knew I was above average, but I wasn't a star.
At Mardi Cup, I was scouted by US coaches looking for student athletes, and reading the recruiting brochures was like some crazy movie. We didn't really know what we were getting into, but we filled out forms and sent videos and I was accepted on a student-athlete scholarship to Oregon State University.
In 2010 a bunch of about 30 athletes from different sports arrived on campus a month before school started to do a few entry courses and get to know each other. They also did thorough health screenings, which is how I discovered I had an iron deficiency.
I'd always thought I was tired because I trained so much but, when I started supplements, the difference was like night and day, and after the first couple of months in college everything finally clicked.
Rowing was cool. We raced in California and Washington, North Carolina and New Jersey, Canada and New York. In the off-season, I was selected for the Vesper Rowing Club Women's 8 and competed in the Canadian Henley. We won that and I was made an All-American rower, their top award for sportspeople.
It often felt surreal, but then I started feeling tired again, having strange but vague symptoms. I was nauseous, fatigued, sleeping a lot, gagging on food but doctors had trouble diagnosing the problem.
One doctor suggested I wasn't good enough to be there, that collegiate rowing was too hard for me. I started wondering if I was crazy until one morning, I woke with a fever. I saw a different doctor who noticed a lump on my neck. He wasn't overly concerned but when the ultrasound came back and it wasn't a cyst, I had a biopsy.
The next day I went to San Diego to race - I was the team's stroke seat of our Varsity Eight, and I wasn't giving that up.
I missed a bunch of calls while I was away. My results had come back and although they wouldn't say what it was on the phone, I knew it was serious. Next day, back in Oregon, I got the diagnosis - thyroid cancer. I was in shock, it didn't feel real, but my first emotion was relief. Finally, we knew what was wrong, so we could fix it.
I didn't want to let it rule my life - although it did – and I wanted to stay in America, living my dream, although it got a bit messy and I took four months off training. My coaches kept me on track even though I must've been a nightmare. I did simple workouts even when I was tired and sick, although academically I did well, as I do tend to thrive under pressure.
It was a pretty dark time, but my dad gave me some good advice. I'd say, "I'm done, I can't do this any more, send me home", and after the millionth time, Dad said, "look, when you're angry, sick or tired, it's the worst time to make any decision, as you will regret it. Wait till you feel better or you've had a good day before you decide you want to come home."
After coming back from cancer, I thought I was unstoppable, although mentally it was a struggle. After graduating I was offered another year to make up for the time I'd had off rowing, so I went back and completed a second degree.
In that final year, I developed pain in my groin. An MRI showed a labral tear in my hip joint, so I rowed that last season, pushing through the pain before having surgery on my hip.
Rehab was slow, but I thought if I did it properly, I'd be fine. Back in New Zealand in 2015, I was very cautious not to push too hard, then I did something very minor and got a bulged disc.
This is super common so I dialled back the training, did more rehab, until I woke one morning in terrible pain. I was nauseous, one leg was dead, as a disc had prolapsed inwards into my spinal cord and almost completely blocked it. At the time, I didn't see it as a spinal cord injury and again thought it was something I'd get through.
I was in denial about how bad my back was when one of my college teammates suggested Parasport. I immediately said no. I didn't think I'd qualify. But she suggested I give it a go, knowing before I did that my high-performance rowing days were over.
What many people don't know, the para part of Paralympics refers to "parallel", not paraplegic. They're run alongside the Olympics and are for people who've been born with or acquired disabilities to take part in sport in a highly competitive environment. Participants are exceptional athletes and definitely not to be pitied.
At first, I thought I'd do kayaking, then cycling was presented as a good option. I gave it a go and now I'm part of the high-performance team going to the world champs, and I'm a hopeful for the Paralympics Games.
It's been just over four years, and I still have ups and downs. It's been such a mind game and because I can't row any more, I've put rowing in the "I don't want to" basket, instead of the "I can't", as if I've chosen not to do it. That mindset enables me to live a pretty normal life.
Most of the time I'm good. I've got great support through high-performance sport and whenever I'm spiralling I seek help. I use mindfulness to be in tune with my body. I have this love/hate relationship with it. I'm so grateful for what it is capable of, but there's also resentment about how it's failed me. I'm still working through that and I'm grateful to have good people around me.
As a support worker in child adolescent mental health, I help kids find something they're passionate about because that can make challenges more manageable. I'm grateful for the job I'm in, as helping others find the support they need puts things in perspective. None of the kids I work with know anything about my journey, as it's quite nice to take a step back from my own life.
Yes, it's been a pretty horrific few years or a decade, but everyone has something they have to deal with. It's not always equal and life's not always fair. My Dad told me, "It's not how many times you fall down that matters, but how many times you get back up".
You always hope good things will happen eventually and when you find the thing that makes you feel alive, you're able to come through anything.