My life.

I’m conscious that my posts are becoming less and less frequent.
I suppose that could be interpreted as me getting better, and less needful to share my thoughts..
That’s probably true, though life is still far from simple, and far from satisfactory ( when compared with ‘before’ ).

It’s very true to say that my friends and family continue to provide enough distraction to keep the demons out of my head.
In the last 10 days I’ve had lovely time with my parents, my brother, Stuart, his wife Mandy ( they enjoyed watching my beautiful Lily rowing on the Thames – I was too low to see over the fence..), my buddy Chris B from Uni, Rick, Quentin ( you know you must be ‘middle class’ when you’ve got a mate called Quentin …! ), Chrissy, Nick and Sophie, Pia, Irinder, Alice, Scott, Ina ( ex colleagues ), Adam in the Gym, Ken, Kev and Sam ( slightly heavy night out ), Dan, the paddlers at Richmond ( Roy, Dickon, Toby, Neal, Jeremy, and Frank, all helped by Richard H, and me a bit ), Cherie, Emma AF, Debs, my staff in Egham, Cressida, Liz, Marta, Caroline and Katrin.
There may have been others too..
Today I get to see Andy and Vanesssa and Julie too, plus Cherie again.
So I’ve not exactly been my myself have I?
Yet still I’m lonely, as no one else is with me in my head, in my new world of sadness, in a place unimaginable to me only 11 months ago.

I’ve made contact with a lady called Claire Lomas, who broke her back on a horse about 7 years ago.
She went on to walk the London Marathon in a robotic suit – and raised a fortune for Spinal Injury Research.
She sent me her book, and I’m a third through. Our stories, thus far are so similar, the horror of realising you’re paralysed , the total confusion, the morbid embarrassment of peeing yourself in public ( or worse ), the inability to do anything for yourself, the strange new misalignment in social situations and relationships, the joy of learning to sit ski, the suicidal thoughts ( and how best to carry out the deed – I think driving into the river would be easiest ),the wanting to give up but not being able to.
I’m going to see her speak at the Excel in London on June 12th – she’s kindly invited me.
I hope we get to chat in person.

What did strike me, from her book, is just how much I managed to do, pre injury, compared to her ( I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that ). I had 20 yrs more uninjured than her, which makes a big difference.
The other day I wrote a brief précis for my nephew in America of stuff I’d done in school / Uni and in sport after that.

This is what I wrote:

Hiya and happy birthday, Morgan

At school, or leaving school at 17, I got the award top scientist of my year for getting the best grades in Science A levels out of all the students.
I’d studied Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

At school, rugby was my main thing and I played for the school, as I described in my last email – I think I was probably recognised as the star player of my year, and played for Gwent Schools Under 15 and Under 17 for 3 years – that was called ‘playing for the County’ and was one level below playing for Wales Schools.

I also learnt to windsurf to a pretty good level whilst at school, and still did it from time to time until last year.

At Uni, I spent the first year injured -ankles – so didn’t play sport at all, though still did an awful lot of press ups and sit ups etc – acquiring the nick name ‘Russell the Muscle’.. Which has followed me to this day..!

I went on to play for the Uni First Team for my last 2 years there, and also played for Pontypool ( my home town, and one of the top 12 sides in Wales) whilst still 19, at Uni.
They would get crowds of 10,000 people watching, pretty cool for a kid.

I graduated from Uni with a degree in Ophthalmic Optics in 1987.

There then followed ten yrs or so of frustration with recurring hamstring injuries that stopped me doing many sports, especially rugby.
At 30, I finally sorted my injuries out and took up endurance sports.
I ran the London Marathon twice, New York twice and Chicago once.
I’d finish in the top 5 % of runners.
And I took up marathon kayaking too, at 30.

From my :

Nearly every Good Friday since 1999 has been spent by me in a preparation frenzy for competing in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, which starts tomorrow.
125 miles long, non stop, through the night, it’s been called ‘the Everest of canoe races ‘ ( and I thought it was til I did The Yukon 1000 mile Race in 2009 ), and is very, very hard.
Eleven times I’ve been in it and managed 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th places, as well as winning the Mixed Doubles one year with Roxanne.
I’d like to thank Henry, Piran, Rox, John, Randall and Stu for partnering me.
Three times I’ve not finished it, the most notable being the time I went virtually blind in my left eye two thirds of the way through, and felt compelled to stop, fearing for my eyesight ( which did recover 12 hours later ).
I’m one of a small group to be in the 1000 miles Club, by virtue of 8 finishes.
Yes, the Race was an obsession for me in some ways, and this is the first year in many that I’ve had no input into it at all.
I’m guessing that it’s now impossible for me to partake in,given you’re not allowed ‘assistance’. There are 77 portages, where you jump out and run with the boat around locks/ over islands, before putting the boat back in and jumping in it again.
It’s usually very cold at night , and falling in the river Thames is an omnipresent danger ( though in the 1200 miles of it I’ve canoed, I only fell in twice I think ), once I recall after a light was shone in my eyes, dazzling me, after which I stepped straight off the tow path into the deep river at 3am. I remember it taking 3 hours of canoeing before I stopped shivering.

Good luck to the 200 plus canoeists who are
doing it this year, at least it’ll be a ‘warm’ one, being a late Easter. Most of my former partners will be involved in either competing or supporting other crews.

One things’s for sure, I’d rather be suffering in a boat this weekend than being trapped in this wheelchair.

My annual obsession with the race is something that drove Dani to her wit’s end, me invariably training most days at 5.30 am for the 3 months before Easter.
Again, she’d far rather me be doing that than havin the daily grind of looking after me, post accident.

The Yukon was a cool experience ..
1000 miles in 6 days, 2 hours and 11 minutes – a record that is unbeaten thus far.

Yep, numerous cycle races – the Marmotte in the French Alps probably the hardest – google it.

The sort of race people train for for a year .. Me 6 weeks..

The Raid Gauloises – ‘the hardest race in the world ‘ at the time.

Legendary race, ridiculously hard.

The 1998 race was in the Andes – mostly Equador – 9 days long, non stop, trekking, running, ocean kayaking, rafting, white water swimming and mountaineering. Included summiting Cotopaxi, the worlds highest active volcano ( 5,897m at the top ). Was televised by Transworld Sport – for years, people were saying they’d seen me on TV.

We came 6th, the best result a first time team had ever achieved.

The second time was in the Himalayas in 2000- starting in Tibet and finishing in Nepal/ India.

Another 6 days of suffering .. Awful blisters and cold. Mid race my blood oxygen saturation dropped to 46% ( normal is 99-100) – enough apparently to kill most people in an operating theatre – let alone someone still standing in sun zero temperatures at 4,500 metres above sea level. But i got through it and we finished the race strongly.

So, I’d got a fair bit done, you could say – and really there was an awful lot more than the above.

I’ve left out my work achievements, my incredible friendships, the ridiculous number of parties, trips away, the joy of marriage and fatherhood, the amazing Scuba experiences, the off piste skiing times.. So much I’ve done pre injury.

I do now think, as many have encouraged me to already, that I should write a book, because let’s face it, I have had an extraordinary life, with just the funniest things happening to me ( a lot of which might be far too bad to put into print )

To think I could have broken my back at 21 and been denied most of them is inconceivable.

Overall then, I ought to be happy.

1 thought on “My life.

  1. Love this blog entry Russ, one of your best. You have indeed achieved more than most achieve in a lifetime, and some. You have to write that book! I heard someone recently say, “it’s not about the set back, it’s the comeback that matters”; I immediately thought of you. xx

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