Few able bodied people would want to be a Paralympian, but sometimes life takes us in a direction which was neither planned nor desired.
Through my twenties, I had taken to boxing training and had become fit and healthy to the point where I felt almost invincible both mentally and physically. I had been fortunate to have never suffered any major injury in my life, and I never appreciated how debilitating a physical impairment could actually be. I did not respect how easily life can change and I guess that you could say that I took unnecessary risks in my leisure activities, riding motorbikes and flying around the peak district with my paraglider.
It was mid April, the weather was nice for the time of year, and I’d had a long weekend, paragliding on Saturday, cycling on Sunday, and out on my motorbike on Monday. My motorbike was my recent new gift to myself, I had upgraded from a Ducati 748 SP, to a Honda VTR 1000 SP1. I was still excited about riding it despite using it on the previous day, and decided to go to work on it.
Honda VTR 1000 SP1 Before
I won’t bother wearing my leathers today, I thought, I’ll just take it easy and stay safe. As a Peugeot 205 dawdled in front of me, I accelerated to pass it… BOOM!!! He turned right, into me! I remember saying ‘OH FUCKKK!!’ as I had nowhere to go. I didn’t see anything else as it turns out that he had pushed me into a tree and I had been knocked unconscious before flying 40 metres into a field.
Honda VTR 1000 SP1 After
As I woke, I remember thinking that my leg feels wet, I knew that I had lots of broken bones, my wrist was twisted and I could see the tendons in my hand. As I lay there, all I could think was that I have around 10 minutes before I bleed to death, and the North Staffordshire Hospital is at least 20 minutes away. It was the end for certain, I had no doubt about it. A first responder paramedic arrived at the scene, and as she walked across the field towards me said ‘oh my god!’ her shocked natural reaction reinforcing my belief that I was about to die. Those around me could offer little more than comfort, but it was duly appreciated more than they will ever know. They fought to keep me awake until I heard the thunder of the Air Ambulance as it landed next to me.
I felt a huge sense of relief, they asked if I needed something for the pain, to which I replied “it’s actually not that bad”. I guess adrenaline and other hormones have the ability to control pain in some extreme circumstances. Unfortunately for me however, the real pain would soon begin as my body adapted to the prospect that I would survive.
As I arrived at the North Staffordshire Hospital, the staff asked for details of my next of kin, I replied “I can’t let anyone see me like this! Clean the blood from me first, then call”. I felt a false sense of security in my confidence that my life was now safe”. They transferred me to a bed, and although our NHS financial woes would mean that I would be waiting on a bed in a corridor, I did not care at all, as I was alive. For every minute that passed, the pain intensified. I always believed that when pain reaches a certain level, you would pass into unconsciousness, and I willed this to happen, but it did not. I remained completely awake until I was taken into theatre.
Hours went by as the surgeons tried relentlessly to repair my broken bones and torn skin. The shock was now taking it’s toll, after 2 complete blood transfusions, I went into respiratory failure and at 2.30am the staff called my family to inform them that my outlook is not good and to come back to the hospital. I wasn’t aware of this of course, and a few days later I woke to find I that had lost my memory and had no idea where I was.
My brother was at my bedside, “where am I?” I asked. He replied “you’re in hospital Mart, you’ve had a really bad crash. They say they can’t save your leg but we are going to do everything we can to save it. We’re planning to fly you to America”. In the UK we see the US as being way ahead of us in terms of healthcare, and often the first sign of a failed attempt within the UK is quickly followed by a desire to go the US instead. The doctors quickly put a stop to any plans however, and said that I wouldn’t even make the flight.
It’s difficult to put into words, the emotional turmoil after being told your leg will soon be amputated. I know that so many people have suffered much worse, but for me it felt like the end of the world. I hated the surgeon as I believed that he was trying to look for the easiest route, but with hindsight of course, he had no alternative. I remember saying to him “I’m not letting you amputate, I’d rather die!”. My emotions led by the shock of such a prospect. As the days passed, he visited me and said “look, I know you said you’d rather die. You are going to unless we amputate. Your leg has no skin on it, we won’t be able to harvest enough from elsewhere and you will die from sepsis. We have already discussed that you will soon have organ failure”.
Although I thought that I’d prefer to die, when I was actually faced with it, my natural instinct to save my own life soon overpowered my thoughts, and I agreed to go ahead into theatre before further complications arose.
Now I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve met a lot of amputees since my crash who have followed a very similar psychological path to the one I did. It began with early initial shock and denial, refusal to co-operate, and desperation. In the days which followed, there was a will to survive, quickly accepting the amputation and an improved positive attitude towards the future.
Unfortunately, realisation ensues, as the prospect of your new life becomes more apparent.
Wearing a prosthetic leg, well, completely sucks in the beginning. It’s painful and you fall over a lot! Thankfully however, this passes, and with practice, it’s possible to feel connected to your prosthesis and do almost everything that an able bodied person can do. For me, I decided to pursue a career in sport and this led me to the event which I now compete in – the Va’a
I had chosen to compete in the Va’a as it was rumoured to be included as a new event at Rio 2016 Paralympics. Unfortunately however, Paralympic medal events are very limited and Va’a was not accepted. On a more positive note, paracanoe was included, but limited to kayak, and as a result of the fantastic public interest, was deemed to be a successful debut, and this important point should lead the way to it remaining as a future paralympic event.
Although disappointed that my discipline would not be included, the acceptance of paracanoe has significant benefits to all GB athletes and staff involved in the sport. The programme would not survive without financial input, and this is influenced by its inclusion in the games.
In the weeks following the end of Rio 2016, I had heard rumours that due to the success of Paracanoe and the public interest of such, additional categories may be included for Tokyo 2020. I felt nervous apprehension as the deadline approached to publicise details of the next Paralympics.
I deliberated; would it be intense training for 6 days per week for the next 3 years, or would this be the end, as my career as an athlete fizzled out as my attention roams elsewhere. The negativity of the previous exclusion already had me beaten, and I thought I knew what to expect.
IT’S IN!! I was shocked to see that my event would be included at Tokyo 2020.
For some, the prospect of so much pain and stress for the next 3 years would not immediately appeal, and it has not always appealed to me either. But the nature of us as humans dictates that most of us have a deep rooted desire to succeed, to feel a sense of accomplishment from effort and to feel proud of what we do.
As a child I was not particularly enthusiastic about sport. My school would submit my reluctant race entry to compete in cross country races. I hated every single step I took and never performed particularly well. I guess the psychology of feeling demoralised by my race results were responsible for my lack of desire, but as a naive child I only understood that it was unpleasant and needless to say I didn’t continue racing.
As I grew older, I became obsessed with pushing myself to my limit, and chose to spend my spare time at my local boxing club or in the gym, and built a level of strength and fitness which would one day influence the success of my sporting career.