A 32-year-old lady from Barton Seagrave in Northamptonshire has become the latest driver to sign for Team BRIT
Anji Silva-Vadgama, a business development manager for a software company who is originally from South London, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018. Now on lifelong treatment to manage the pain and mobility problems caused by the condition, she has set out on a major long-term challenge to become a racing driver.
Anji had returned from her honeymoon with her wife in 2018 when she noticed a constant pain in her right eye. She then noticed recurring ‘pins and needles’ in her left leg and at one point was paralysed from the hips down for more than two weeks.
An MRI confirmed that she had MS, which had also caused nerve damage in the back of her right eye. Anji began treatment for the condition in May 2019 and has drug infusions every 6 months.
Day to day, she continues to feel recurring ‘pins and needles’ sensations, she has a dropped foot and has lost overall strength. Occasionally she uses a wheelchair as simple tasks can leave her lethargic.
Anji explains; “It was a real shock to receive the diagnosis of MS and I’ve probably been through every emotional reaction since hearing the news. There were tears, anger but also frustration because other health conditions meant the usual treatment plan wasn’t right for me. Now, I’m back to my usual positive self and I don’t let it stop me from doing anything. Before medication was developed to help people like me, I would have been given a life expectancy of just 8-10 years after my diagnosis. Now, I have my life ahead of me and some incredible opportunities such as driving with Team BRIT.”
Earlier this year, Anji saw a TV feature on Team BRIT and quickly got in touch to find out more. Her grandfather was a rally driving champion in Kenya, winning the first ever off-road safari rally championship in Tanzania in the 1950s and her dad was a mechanic, so cars have always been a part of her life.
She explains; “When I saw the TV piece on Team BRIT, I knew I had to find out more. I’ve always been sporty, playing lacrosse at school and swimming in charity events but despite being surrounded by cars since I can remember, I’ve never tried considered racing myself.
“When I received my MS diagnosis it seemed even more far fetched until I saw Team BRIT and what was actually possible.”
Anji visited the team for a track day at Silverstone in September and received great feedback from the team’s driver coach. She returned to the track at Donington Park in October and has now been offered a place on the team’s rookie development programme.
The team has developed the world’s most advanced hand control technology to enable disabled drivers to compete on equal terms. Anji will be using both the foot pedals and hand controls, and may progress to hand controls only should the strength in her legs deteriorate.
The invitation to the team comes as Anji and her wife embark on an IVF journey. Anji will continue her off-season coaching with the team and will put her racing plans on hold should they start a family soon.
Anji continues: “I absolutely loved my first experience on the track. I’m going to watch F1 next year and it makes me even more excited about watching motorsport as I feel so much more a part of it now that I have that direct experience.
“It’s an interesting time of life for me as I start fertility treatment, so it could be full speed ahead with training next year, or it could be on pause if we’re lucky enough to welcome a baby into our lives. Either way, I’m 100% committed to a future with the team and pushing to break even more boundaries in the sport. This isn’t something I’m taking lightly – I want to be a driver but I also want to be getting podium finishes.
“I’m the only female driver currently in the team, which is something I’m very proud of. Hopefully if other disabled women see what I’m doing and the opportunities I’m being given they will be inspired to think about trying something new themselves.”