The Centre of Challenge has many elements, which for me, resonate with aspects of my life.
In the year 2000, whilst many may remember it as a the millennium, I remember it as the year I had a life changing car crash, whilst driving a journey that I have driven often, one very wet and quite normal Sunday morning. I have lived the journey over in my head many times since and the drive is firmly fixed in my mind as remains a pivotal moment in my life.
I met John Williams, when I joined his gym. I was post divorce and over 14 stone. One day I told myself I’d had enough, and that is when John and I met. Over time and many training sessions together, John shared his ambition. As a local businessman, and Director of my own companies, I knew that I could help to take a significant step to make this dream a reality. That’s what I bring to the party, commercial acumen and a passion to succeed.
I am a local lad, and although I have travelled the world, I have lived in Cornwall most of my life. I am a father and grandfather and I want to give something back. At 50 I still have a huge passion for life and outdoor sports. As an ex serviceman, I plan to succeed and I have trained for success. Sometimes my body tells me different, and I understand that I am not the young buck that I was.
I want to be involved in this because I see a big gap, an opportunity to make a difference. It’s a space between where people have been physically fixed in hospital, but where really, they have not been mended at all. It’s healing a self belief where, a vigor and passion for life is missing. It’s because those who have not accepted their disability, actually have bigger problems than the disability itself. Coping and leaning that a disability, although cumbersome and mind blowingly numbing, can be overcome takes an inner strength and it involves not over coming the views of others, but overcoming the unconscious bias of yourself.
January 2000, was the day that my life ended, or so I thought, although some say that it was the day it actually started.
A freak accident caused my car to be smashed in to pieces, leaving me alive but trapped in the driving seat with an excruciating pain from the knees down. My immediate thought was that both my legs were broken and how was I going to get out, but then my focus changed as my car caught fire. The only way out was for me to crawl or in fact, shimmy on my bottom out of the wreckage, which was made a little easier as the car doors had come off.
As I brought myself to rest on the ground, a passer by stopped and put out the fire. A doctor and nurse also graciously stopped, as the accident was on the route to the hospital.
I had one shoe on my left foot and a sock on my right, after my feet had been dragged as the floor of the car had dropped out. The medical passers by removed my sock and I could tell by the look on their faces, that there was a grave problem. The emergency services took me to the local hospital, and fairly quickly I was in the operating room.
When I awoke, the nurse that was stopped at the side of the road turned out to be my ward sister. The surgeons came to see me and told me that I would be lucky to ever walk again, even with crutches. After telling them ‘ you’ve got to be kidding me’ I simply dismissed it, and I never thought about it again until actually trying to walk. I never wanted to let myself ever consider that I would not walk. Never.
I had the right foot repaired through a lengthy operation. The brake pedal had gone through my right foot, I had a broken ankle and the heel was removed from the bone. However, the left foot was something that the surgeons had not come across as it had been de-gloved. This repair took 5 operations and 3 months.
After a month or so time, all I wanted to do was to get home. I was informed that I would not be allowed to have time at home until I could walk 30 steps aided with crutches, as a wheel chair at my house wasn’t an option. This would mean that I would have to stay in hospital far longer to undertake further medical care, and made me recognise that this was far from over.
With pure grit and determination, the time came for the first steps, and without a practice I decided to give it a go. Walking on two stumps with no feeling of having feet, I did what was asked before being taken in a wheel chair back to my bed. I closed the curtains and with tears rolling down my face, the fear and realisation that maybe what the doctors had said regarding not being able to walk properly again or unaided, could be a real possibility.
I was glad to be home and I quickly adapted to getting around the house on my bottom and hands. This was short lived, as two days later my left foot which was still not making progress due the lack of blood supply, got an infection which meant that I had to return to hospital. My foot was dying. I had to undergo another operation to remove three toes on my left foot and part of the top of the foot that had become infected as well.
A further five weeks later, I returned home with three toes missing on my left foot and a two inch hole in the top of the foot, where skin was very slowly growing back.
My right foot, had a de-gloved heel which would never again be connected to the bone, seven screws, a plate and three pins, with a seven inch scare from the brake peddle, and limited ankle movement from the trauma.
I visited outpatients for a further month, having dressing changed regarding the continued re growth of skin on the top of my left foot. Then the final operation to try and put the bone back into a toe next to my big toe that still had good blood supply wasn’t successful, and so it had to be removed. This left me with only my big toe on my left foot.
The NHS and Dutchy had done a wonderful job, with a very difficult set of injuries, my left foot being a first of its kind.
However once ‘home on my own’ even though my family was around me, the ‘coming to terms with a different sort of life’ doubt started. Mine with a dis belief, that I would get back to normal. Self-doubt was creeping in. I isolated myself, to try to get a grip with my situation, and I was hard to communicate with. I starred depression in the face but knew it was not a place I wanted to visit.
As time went by, the realization set in that I would run again (something I had done all my life). I grasped hold of the positive vibe and pulled myself up, even though I still felt I wasn’t whole. I didn’t feel like a full man, although to look at me with shoes on, standing still, you wouldn’t know any different.
Walking without a limp took me almost a year to correct. It was a constant reminder to me that I was still different, but also that I could do what I put my mind to. Deep inside however, I felt that could never be me again. I settled for many years, that yes I could drive a car, and that yes I could walk without crutches – something that took maximum efforts to overcome. But, I still wasn’t me.
Today I train with a giant, my 6ft 5in best friend (don’t tell him I said so) who has a happy soul and a vision. He is me with an able body, not as good as mine, and he inspires life whilst I inspire vision and a need to over come. No disability should be seen as an ailment, it should be actually seen as a soul. We all have a soul, and contentment in your soul is about who you really are.
We are called the twins. He has picked me off the floor when I have fallen off my bike (whilst my bicycle cleats are still attached), he has pushed me on my bike like a father training a youngster to ride when I have had trouble working my cleats often in to on-coming traffic!
However I have an advantage at low tide whist kayaking as he runs a ground quite a bit before me, and I have never seem Vaseline used on the rim of a kayak supposedly to get John sat in .. a bit like getting a cork back in to a bottle!
The only reason that he thinks he looks more masculine kayaking than me is because we have to wear spray skits to prevent water leakage in to the kayak. These are only made in one size. I have passed out twice because they were so tight like a girdle that circulation was stopped. Where as for John, the blood stays in the top of his body, supposedly making feel so Macho… apparently!
I want to achieve a place where you can move from being in a fixed position ’straight out of hospital’, to somewhere where you can make yourself whole, beyond disablement, at a far quicker pace to those who quite often struggle trying. To make something happen yourself can take years. The centre of Challenge will help put some fun and inspiration back in to the lives of others and encourage laughter which to me is one of the biggest healers of all time.
What are you asking people to do?