‘It turns out I’m really good at it’ – man turns health challenges into sport and TV success

Imagine being a 6ft 1in, 21-year-old man and finding two pizzas too heavy to carry, but not knowing why.

That was what happened to Ekow Otoo – an actor, spoken-word poet and model.

“My legs had been giving me problems for years; I was suffering a relapse and felt too weak to cook, so I’d ordered a takeaway. I remember being pinned to the wall when I took the pizzas from the delivery guy – they were too heavy to walk with,” says Ghanian-born Londoner Ekow, now 29.

Ekow, who now knows he has multiple sclerosis (MS), started experiencing issues aged 14. “I tried to get out of my bed one morning and my legs wouldn’t follow. After a nap they were fine again, but next time I played basketball I couldn’t run – my knees would buckle and I couldn’t get any speed.”

A GP put the issue down to Ekow shooting up six inches in just one year. “They just thought I’d grown too quickly and my muscles were catching up.”

MS is an inflammatory disease in which the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. Slowly the disease affected Ekow to the point he had to give up sport entirely. “I couldn’t even walk two roads without resting on walls.”

At university Ekow struggled to get information from his brain to the page. “I think they thought I was lazy,” he says. “I didn’t connect the problem with my legs, though.”

Help and advice

In February 2014, Ekow went to bed with a chest infection. “When I woke I felt funny, sat down and couldn’t stand up again. I ended up in hospital with a doctor standing over my bed, saying: ‘This is MS.’ I remember thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a name for it.’

“It was such a relief to have a definitive diagnosis. I knew it wasn’t all in my head.”

When he was first given his wheelchair, Ekow was, “overcome with peace”: “I thought it was going to be a massive struggle, but I sat in the chair and pushed for the first time, and it was like all the stress melted away.

“It turns out I’m really good at it. I can travel faster than I used to, without worrying I’ll fall over, look strange or have to stop.”

Since his diagnosis, Ekow has relied heavily on The National Lottery-supported MS Society which proved a vital source of information and help when he needed it.

He has also benefited from sports, including wheelchair racing – mentored by Paralympian Vanessa Wallace – and adapted rowing with another National Lottery-supported organisation, British Rowing. By playing The National Lottery, you raise £30M for good causes every week*

“Getting back into sport was the first step in finding my confidence as a wheelchair user. I just loved it – I took part in a development programme with British Rowing for a year and, in 2016, won a para-rowing gold in the British Championships.”

Ekow has even excelled at acting, and was recently picked to play the lead role in a stunning new National Lottery TV advert, which sees him performing dramatic stunts in his wheelchair.

Thanks to some clever CGI, viewers watch as he is transported from a street corner into the middle of a Viking invasion, before tearing through a museum and then taking off above the city skyline. At one point Ekow is even flung into the air as he travels through a skate park.

All the situations in the advert show the kind of fantastic projects those who play The National Lottery are helping to fund – from community sports to keeping our beaches clean and safe, bringing history to life in museums and helping people explore the great outdoors.

By playing The National Lottery, you raise £30M for good causes every week*. When we all play a little, fun stuff happens. Find out how at national-lottery.co.uk/news

*Based on figures from April 2020-March 2021. Players must be 18+.

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