An Irish dancer from Liverpool says she will compete in the 2020 World Championships, despite having a debilitating illness.

Annabelle Nunnery, 24, has been diagnosed with Small Fibre Peripheral Neuropathy (SFPN), which results in incurable nerve damage. She is determined to participate at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin this year, even though she knows it will be her last competition.

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“I have had to train my mind and body to be strong and fight against a condition within me,” Annabelle told “Invisible illnesses are hard to understand for people on the outside and even more difficult for the sufferer to accept.”

“Being diagnosed with an incurable illness has dramatically altered my life, but my aim is to use the struggles I have faced to help other people and inspire self-belief. 

“I want my pain to mean something and be of value to others.”

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Publiée par Marie Connell School of Irish Dancing sur Samedi 1 février 2020

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Nunnery began experiencing symptoms in 2016, including itching and numbness in her feet, tingling in her lips and hands, an internal tremor, and extreme fatigue. It took an entire year of tests and multiple doctors to finally get a diagnosis for her mysterious symptoms.

A competitive Irish dancer since she was six years old, Nunnery has competed at the World Championships multiple times and has performed with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance on the West End.

After finishing her degree, Annabelle joined a highly competitive dance school in Wolverhampton where she still trains today.

“We train like Olympic athletes,” she said. “Our classes range from three hours to six hours at a time, with little time for breaks. I have a personal trainer, practice additionally at home and attend an extra stretching session each week to improve my dancing technique and ability.”

Nunnery has since improved her solo ranking to 23rd in the World and is the current North West Champion. She was also part of a team that placed 3rd at the World Championships and were North American National champions.

Since her diagnosis, Nunnery has had to change how she trains and dances.

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“My choreography has been changed dramatically, as I struggle to perform certain moves due to the numbness and lack of feeling in my feet,” she said.  

“Some days we joke that my legs ‘aren’t working,’ as I dance so poorly and without control that I am not able to perform. I was forced to not compete at the 2019 World Championships as a new rule stated that dancers in the top 50% had to compete over two days of competition.

“I have severe fatigue, which means some days I have to take a break to walk up the stairs, and I am unable to dance on two consecutive days. 

“I was quite obviously devastated that this chance to compete in America, on the world stage, was taken away from me – due to no fault of my own.”

Nunnery hopes to promote awareness of invisible illnesses.

“Before I was diagnosed, it was hard for my family and friends to understand,” she said. “I could never quite get the language across to explain what I was feeling and the intensity of the pain. 

“A few weeks ago I was splashed walking home with my boyfriend by a bus driving through a puddle and the pain it caused in my feet drove me to tears. I have to grit my teeth to get into the shower, sleep with cold patches on my feet, tremor so much I cannot write – but these are things that people don’t see.”

Nunnery told that it is the positive influence of her friends and family that motivates her.

"Watching my boyfriend and friends compete has spurred me on,” she said. “I am currently trying to train my body and mind to push through working out and dancing over two days to the best of my ability. If all goes to plan this year, there is a possibility that I will be dancing nine times over two days.

“I work incredibly hard at my dancing and have sacrificed a lot as a child, teenager and now adult for Irish dancing and the pursuit of success. I love the challenges it brings, as no dancer is ever perfect, and I am eternally thankful for the friendships I have made because of Irish dancing.”

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