Words by Femke Colborne, Photos by James Lampard
I was out kite surfing with a friend in Blackpool when it happened. It was January 2007, quite a windy day but there were about half a dozen other people out kite surfing at the time, so I thought it must be all right. I got my kite up in the air and started to head down towards the sea. Before I got to the sea, a gust of wind picked me up – I’m told it was about 20 feet in the air – and dropped me down on the sand.
Luckily, my friend was a doctor so he realised the seriousness of my injury and called the emergency services straight away. They got to me pretty quickly and I was in hospital within what they call the ‘golden hour’ [Jason was taken to hospital by the North West Air Ambulance] but I was very close to dying. People with brain injuries are scored on the Glasgow Coma Scale and I got a score of 3 out of 15, which is the lowest score you can get, so it was pretty serious.
I’ve got vague memories of putting my wetsuit on and getting the gear ready at the car before I went down to the beach, but everything is blank for about two weeks after that. My first memory is of waking up and thinking that for some reason the doctors had put a corpse in bed with me. I could feel an arm and a leg next to me and I didn’t know whose they were. They were actually mine, of course – I couldn’t feel them because I was paralysed down my left side.
I was in hospital for a year and a half and my neurologist told me I would never walk again. When I was discharged I couldn’t sit up straight and it was taking two people to transfer me out of my wheelchair into bed. When I came home I needed carers twice a day to get me in and out of bed. But being told I would never walk again was like a red rag to a bull as far as I was concerned. I thought, you don’t know me, mate.
As soon as I got home I started working with two physios. Having been told I would never walk again before I left hospital, about two weeks after I got home I was actually able to take my first steps. It was a fairly long process and I was still using a wheelchair until May 2009, but the physios gradually got me walking better.
One of my main ambitions was to be able to walk down the aisle. I met Liz in Australia about a year before the accident. We were already engaged when it happened and she was three months pregnant – so my son Jack was born while I was still in hospital. By our wedding day I was well enough that I didn’t just walk down the aisle, I actually ran, just to make a point.
Soon after that I told Hannah, one of the physios I was working with, that I would like to have a go at swimming. I wasn’t very good to start with but I gradually got there. Then Hannah suggested that I have a go at riding a bike. About the first four times we went out, she was walking alongside me and holding me up. I could sit on it and pedal but I couldn’t find a middle point. I was leaning to the side and she was walking alongside me, holding me up. But then the fifth time I basically found a middle point, sat up straight and went off, and that was it!
That was the most amazing thing for me. By then I had re-learned to walk, swim and ride a bike. So I thought, well, I’ll put it all together and do a triathlon. I had some friends who were doing triathlons and I’ve always been an active, outdoorsy sort of person, so it was a natural thing to do. I spoke to Liz about it and we decided to do it together. She’s a keen runner so she was happy to come along.
We signed up for the Skipton Triathlon, a sprint-distance event in May 2014. The first thing I did was lots of running on the treadmill. I hadn’t done much of that before so I wanted to get my running good enough. A couple of months before the race I started doing mini-triathlons in the gym once or twice a week. I built up to it gradually and I was confident that I could do the distances. I also joined the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club, which was a great support network.
On the day, I wasn’t nervous – I knew I could do the distances and Liz was doing it with me, so we were supporting each other. It was a brilliant experience. There were a lot of people doing it and it was great to be part of that. The only hitch I had was getting a puncture about a mile into the bike ride. I didn’t have a puncture repair kit so they organised a van to take me back to the start, so I could fix the puncture and then set off again. I lost about 40 minutes, but that didn’t matter – I wasn’t aiming for a fast time, I just wanted to get round and do it. Jack was waiting for me at the finish line and it was great to see how proud he was.
I still take great satisfaction in going back to see the neurologist who told me I would never walk again. The first time I went back to see him, I walked into his office and shook his hand and said, ‘Look, I’m walking now.’ This was a few months after he told me I’d never walk again and his jaw dropped. I’ve carried on improving and this year I was able to go in and tell him I was doing a triathlon. That was a great feeling.
First Published in Triathlon Plus Magazine, December 2014