CEO’s reflection – Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Rugby

April 5, 2016 9:21 am    

Whilst recently visiting Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Rugby Team (SMWR) I was introduced to a man I had not met before who kindly shared his story. In many ways this man’s story is similar to my own. We are of similar age, married and like me the proud father of two teenage boys. Both of us long-term residents of Bucks, my boys grew up in Aylesbury, his in High Wycombe. Even holidaying at the same time last year; my family visiting Perthshire in Scotland, his family on holiday in France. At that time – late September – last year both of us full of excitement, hopes and dreams for the future of our children.

A very bright, intelligent young man, who loved his sport and was very active, was suddenly faced with some difficult and very different life choices.

While in Perthshire my two boys were clambering over the rocks at one of the many rivers of Scotland. My younger son slipped and fell into the water up to his chest. Shocked more by the cold temperature of the water than by the ‘what if?’, but for the swift action of his older brother pulling him out he may have gone still further in the water. By the evening we were back at the rental cottage, he was showered dried and in warm clothes, the accident already fading in our memories.

Meanwhile in France this father of two has found himself sitting next to a hospital bed comforting his son following a horrendous accident on his mountain bike. The story of how this tragedy unfolded is not my story to tell. What I am liberty to say is a very bright, intelligent young man, who loved his sport and was very active, was suddenly faced with some difficult and very different life choices.

Since his accident in September this young man has found himself in the care of the Spinal Unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital. His father goes on to tell me that a big question on his son’s mind was, with so little mobility, how will he ever enjoy sport again? While he has been working through his recovery, Bob O’shea and Ian Hosking have been working tirelessly to establish a local wheelchair rugby team based at Stoke Mandeville Stadium here in Aylesbury. One of the nurses working in the Spinal Unit is married to Bob and, knowing SMWR are always on the lookout for new team members, introduced Bob to this young man.

SM wheelchair rugby

I asked the father ‘what is the outlook for your son?’ He points to a young man – his son – who is in one of the wheelchairs and busy training with the rest of the team doing the warm-up exercises. He certainly looked tired but he had a smile on his face. He points to a second young man who is standing in the middle of the hall, directing the exercises and leading the training. This is his second son who is now training to be a referee for wheelchair rugby.  The father’s gratitude was clearly evident as he shared the great work the club had done to re-envision his son, and his thankfulness for the support that the team have given his family as they come to terms with this life-changing situation.

I sat with the team at the beginning of the evening and each one had a similar story to tell. Each one of them testifying the same gratitude for a group of men who, despite some huge obstacles, are determined to embrace new hopes, dreams and aspirations for their lives, As you can imagine for myself the evening was a tremendously humbling experience. It has also heightened my awareness of the privilege it is to be able to support and encourage programmes like this that do such life transforming work.

When it became time for their practice game they were one man down for a four-a-side 40 minute game.  Fortunately, along with my wife, I had the good sense to bring my younger son with me to meet this amazing group of men.  With some relief on my part, my son drew the short straw and was duly strapped into a chair to make up the 8th man. As I reflect on the evening, I find it difficult to articulate the mixed bag of emotions that I’m feeling as I watched my son who fell in the river in September, play this very demanding game in the same sports hall as this young man whose life story was so dramatically altered last year.


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