Paralympian Hollie Arnold: “I used to hide my disability. Now it’s helping me to win gold medals”

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Team GB paralympian and Nike athlete Hollie Arnold was born without her right forearm. She tells Stylist how learning self-love and acceptance, ending toxic friendships, and getting real about Instagram helped her on the road to javelin gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.  

Hollie Arnold Paralympian

Paralympian Hollie Arnold: “Don’t compare yourself, because there is nobody else like you out there”

What does strong mean to you?

Strong doesn’t necessarily mean big and strong. It means powerful, it means you can stand tall and you’re proud of yourself. There are loads of other different things that strong involves. I would say a strong mindset as well, so not just being physically strong. 

What impact do you think mental strength has on your life?

I think mental health has a massive impact! You need to feel good, but you also need to accept yourself; you need to love yourself in your own skin first, in order to accept someone else loving you as well.

I think it was a big journey for me being disabled because I hated the way I looked. I used to hide my disability, and I got to an age where I said: ‘I’m never going to have the other arm, so you should accept the way you are’.

I’m an athlete, I get to go to the Paralympics and have such amazing – and crazy – opportunities. I love the way I look now, it’s a part of me. It doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of me. I think I would still be in sport if I had two arms. It’s given me a great pathway, so I can’t complain.

How do you motivate yourself, not just for the gym but for life?

I think it’s about being happy with yourself, accepting yourself and also understanding yourself. The human brain is a very hard thing to understand. It’s about going out there, doing the best you can – whether that’s Paralympic gold, or that’s just going to the gym twice a week. It’s an achievement in itself, and you should be proud of yourself when you do something. Stop being so harsh on yourself, and give yourself credit for the little things that you do in life.

hollie arnold paralympian

Paralympian Hollie Arnold is a Paralympic champion, three times world champion and a world record holder

Some women feel intimidated at the gym, what’s your best advice for getting through this?

I’m a javelin thrower, so I guess I have to be stronger than most. People go to the gym and go, ‘Oh I don’t want to get big legs’ or ‘I don’t want to get a big upper body’, but to me it’s really important that I look the part. I want to feel strong, and I want to look like I’m powerful because that’s my sport. But even if you don’t do sport, or want to achieve Paralympic or Olympic medals, everybody’s body is different and everybody is beautiful regardless of size, shape, colour or hair colour.

Don’t compare yourself, because there is nobody else like you out there.

What should we remember when looking at other people’s fitness regimes on social media?

Social media is really hard; it’s one of the best things, but it’s also one of the worst things. A lot of young women aspire to look like somebody, and sometimes it’s not reality. It’s not always that dream life [we see]. They may have a chef that cooks for them 24/7, or they might have a make-up artist. 

I’m really loving the posts where models taking a selfie say they do have skin rolls, and a little bit of fat, or they look slightly different in this angle, but it is all about angles. I think it’s lovely, because then young girls go, ‘that’s kind of what I look like’. Even for me, looking at social media wanting to be a slightly different shape – as having bigger boobs, it makes me look bigger than I already am. Sometimes I feel we just need to step back, and realise sometimes social media isn’t always reality.

Hollie Arnold paralympian

Paralympian Hollie Arnold competing at the British Athletics World Championships Team Trials in Birmingham

What’s your advice for women who are looking to gain strength both physically and mentally?

I’m lucky in the mental aspect, because I have a psychologist just to help me through lifestyle, training and finding the positivity. 

I’ve cut some people out of my life, because they didn’t bring positivity to me. They didn’t support who I was, they didn’t support what I did, and I really need that in my life; why should I hang around, and give my energy to them, if they can’t do the same back? 

I have a very small group of friends who I absolutely adore, and I have family who are so supportive. I think that’s the most important thing; having that positivity around you to get through the tough times.

Nike athlete Hollie Arnold wears the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 FlyEase, available now via Nike.com, RRP £104.95

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So, whether you’re a beginner or already have strength-training experience, Stylist Strong has a class to suit you. Come and try our strength-based classes at our own purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair. 

Images: Nike, Getty.

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