Mariana Sfakianakis, 22, regularly reminds her 50,000 Instagram followers that she’s not the same girl she once was.
The Sydney-based business administrator and personal assistant shared a childhood image of herself with leg casts on in hopes she could inspire other people to stay strong, even if they have a disability.
‘I was born in Greece as a premature baby. Doctors had told my mum prior to giving birth that I was going to be a stillborn and so we had no preparation for post labour.
‘I was immediately rushed over to the intensive care unit but by that time I had lost large amounts of oxygen which caused damage to my brain resulting in a permanent condition called cerebral palsy,’ she said in a caption on Instagram.
Mariana’s condition affected the movement in her legs, muscle control and balance. She moved to Australia at the age of five in hopes of finding more advanced doctors and treatments.
‘As a young kid I never understood what was really happening and why I was different to all the other kids. I got bullied for not walking like all the others and for also being in a wheelchair.
‘This caused major anxiety, depression and being so young I never really knew how to deal with it besides self harm. When I reached year six I had multi level surgery, almost not making it through the eight hour procedure leaving me with nine scars on my legs,’ the caption continued.
The surgery was thankfully a success but the 22-year-old still couldn’t move her legs for almost eight months. She was forced to learn how to walk again using a frame and then crutches.
‘Although I was told that I would never be 100 per cent normal my results were incredible and I was gratefully content. I never wanted to be perfect. Just better,’ the caption finishes.
Mariana’s Instagram page is filtered with incredible fitness feats and personal bests. She told Daily Mail Australia exercise is what helped her overcome longstanding mental and physical issues.
‘Starting high school in a wheelchair was a struggle that lead me to depression and anxiety. It took me many years to overcome it before I decided to drop out in year ten and start my fitness journey.’
The kids at school were not as educated about disabilities as they are now, Mariana explained. The 22-year-old wasn’t able to run and keep her balance and was in ‘daily pain’ as a result of her walking pattern. Children found ways to stir her about it.
‘It was quiet often verbal but also physical bullying. I was always very soft and didn’t stick up for myself because I was scared.
‘I thought that there was nothing I could really do and if I did stick up for myself it would only make it worse.
‘I spent most days crying and feeling very lonely which most times lead to self harm. That was the only way I knew how to deal with it,’ she said.
Social media and exercise has completely transformed Mariana’s life. Her followers see her an inspiration, particularly those in ‘similar situations’.
‘I’ve built myself to be a strong and independent young lady that is always focused on improving everyday. My fitness journey has had a huge impact on my life today and the support of all my friends and family,’ she said.