She began sharing videos on TikTok of the process of learning to run with her blade, something she felt was missing when she first had her accident and was looking to hear about other people’s experiences.
“When I first lost my leg, I looked for people online and I literally couldn’t find anyone. I came across this girl that was from Brazil – she looked lovely, but I haven’t got a clue what she was saying,” she laughs. “I really wanted to have someone to relate to and since I started posting everything online, a lot of amputees ask me, what’s the best leg to get? What happens at this point? And so on.”
From informative videos on training as an amputee to light-hearted responses to comments that fans send in; Pickles uses her platform to engage daily with her audience.
Sharing her journey on social media has given her the ability to track her progress and build a community of 201.3k followers with 43 million likes. One that has now been backed by athletics brand, Gym Shark as she becomes their first para-athlete partnership.
Pickles’ passion for raising awareness around disabilities comes across on videocall, as she animatedly recalls anecdotes of the messages she has received off the back of her viral TikTok videos. “I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘you’ve made me feel better because I might be having to lose my leg. And you’ve made me realise life is good, and that it’s fine’. Knowing that I can help people and provide comfort makes me really happy.”
Those messages of support and advice are far removed from some of the initial comments Pickles received – many that she puts down to ignorance around disabilities which she is trying to help change.
“People were like, ‘If I lost my leg, I’d want to kill myself’. And it’s like, is my life really that bad? And it’s not, I’m very happy. I think if you just imagine it, you can’t fathom it. But when you’re living it, [you] get through it.”
But that does not outweigh the positives she has experienced since starting her profile earlier this year, which Pickles says provides her with motivation during more difficult moments.
“It is so overwhelming, you just scroll through and I’m like ‘how are they being so nice’. It’s just so warming knowing that everybody is so lovely and I’m doing a good thing and they appreciate it. I don’t think it’s a bad place and I’m genuinely very grateful for social media. And it’s also helped me connect with so many people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Whilst Pickles has only been running with her blade for a month, she has her sights set on returning to competitive sports and is taking her fan base alongside her on the journey.
Lia Lewis – Freestyle footballer
Last season, 24,564 people flooded Stamford Bridge for Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur for the opening weekend of the WSL. As fans took to their seats, a nervous freestyle footballer took to the field – her name was Lia Lewis.
“It was one of the most incredible feelings for me,” says 23-year-old Lewis. “I remember the feeling the very first time I walked on the sidelines and there were so many people. Here I am with one-and-a-half years of freestyling experience and I’m in front of all of them.”
After a short-lived career as a professional contemporary dancer, Lewis set her sights on becoming a professional freestyle footballer. Picking up a new skill aged 21 was not easy, but with patience and perseverance, she had claimed her space as one of the best in the country. She did that partly with the help of TikTok, where she has surpassed one million followers and provides regular tutorials on how others can flip, jump and control the ball like her.
“I wanted to be a performer, but dancing wasn’t for me anymore. I was trying to find different ways of still being able to perform, and freestyle football provided that. There were only two or three girls in the UK who were doing it professionally. So I was like, you know what, this is a place for me.”