This month we’re launching ‘Bounceback Stories’ – a new guest blog series that tells the tales of inspirational people across the UK who have overcome adversity to bounce back.
Our first contributor is Steve Judge. In 2002, Doctors told Steve that he may never walk again after suffering terrible injuries to both legs in a near fatal car accident. Through a combination of medical excellence from the NHS (in particular Sheffield Northern General Hospital) and sheer determination, Steve went on to achieve many goals during his rehabilitation journey – he is now a Personal Life Coach and TEDx international motivational speaker who shares his powerful story at schools, companies, charities…and here as our first guest blogger, take it away Steve!
When I was 10 years old, I was very much into scouting. Scouting gives opportunities, the fun, challenge and adventure of working through the many badges and discovering your skills. Each badge is a goal that you work towards and achieve. I remember taking the badge book home and looking to see which badges I wanted and then asking my Mum or Dad or Scout leader to help me work towards achievement.
My first three badges that I have achieved in scouting were swimming cycling and running which is very significant with regards my journey as I will explain later. I continued with scouting through my Young adult years achieving the highest scouting award as a Queens Scout.
Also as a child I loved to run and I would run everywhere, …running was my thing, and as I grew up I kept on with the sport and joined a local club. I entered many events from cross countries to Marathons but mainly…I ran because I loved it.
Everything changed though in 2002 when I had a near fatal car accident as I skidded on a wet road which crashed the car into a post sideways. I wasn’t speeding, there wasn’t anybody else on the road or in the car it was just a very bad accident. Both of my legs were crushed in the accident ripping my left knee apart and partially amputating my right leg. The emergency services rescued me and mercy dashed me to the Northern General hospital in Sheffield where I had emergency operations on both of my legs.
Three out of the four ligaments in my left knee had to be replaced… but sadly I now have loss of feeling and movement in my lower leg, ankle and foot. In my right leg two parts of my Tibia and fibula bones had been knocked out along with major skin and muscle loss.
It was at this point that the consultants told me that I may never walk again.
I think when somebody gives you information like that it’s a fight or flight situation and for me even though I was laying on my back feeling weak and fighting for my life I do remember thinking that I would prove them wrong and that I would walk again.
My right leg was 4 inches shorter than it used to be and held together with an external fixator – it was my task to twist the bolts every day to slowly lengthen my leg. The pain I went through as you can imagine was excruciating.
As my leg lengthened the best way to grow new strong bone is to use it…”if you don’t use it you lose it”. So although there was a gap in my leg I had to put weight through it and force myself to stand on it. This is very much a case of mind over matter as my brain was screaming out for me to stop but I knew to achieve my goal of growing my leg back I had to go through this process….it was tough…in fact … I was looking through my diaries the other day which I had written…now don’t get me wrong but I’m not a big writer but writing down my feelings and actions on a day to day basis as well as photos and even poetry was really good therapy for me. When I was feeling low I could look back in my diary and see that I had been lower…this for me…in a slightly negative way…showed progress.
Anyway…I was looking through them the other day and I found an entry a couple of months after my accident that simply said “today was a good day…because today…I DIDN’T cry”
Through my rehabilitation I had many people helping me with family friends and all the medical professionals and services but I realised that to succeed in MY goals…it’s not always about the time resources or opportunities…it’s about ME…MY drive…MY motivation…MY commitment.
I guess my goal driving me through this period was just to get back to normal…I wanted to be treated normally…I didn’t want people to hold the door open for me or help me or ask me how the pain was …I think I just wanted to get better and just…‘move on’!!!
Due to extensive complications to my right leg I had an additional cage fitted to the top of my leg and it was MY task to twist the rods every day to slowly straighten my knee.
This was the worst seven weeks of rehabilitation; I felt I was going backwards. I struggled to move, I struggled to sleep, I lost all the independence that I had built up the year previous to this. Coincidently this period happened to be the year anniversary of my accident and as I sat in my wheelchair reading an email telling me that my company had terminated my employment due to my status I couldn’t help but compare to where I had been a year previous…with good health a good job, good prospects and a bright future…I burst into tears…and it didn’t stop. Sporadically crying for 3 days…
This was one of the lowest points of my journey.
Eventually…on the fourth day…I stopped…and I remember thinking that this wasn’t getting me anywhere…I had to do something… anything… EVERYTHING… I’ve got to make sure that I have NO regrets going forward.
I achieved my goal of a straight leg and the top cage was removed just leaving the bottom cage. During my rehabilitation it was explained to me that I couldn’t go on the static exercise bike because my cage would clash on the frame which was a good point…but I saw this as an excuse…and I turned this excuse into a challenge by going out to my garage in my wheelchair where over the next week using my engineering skills I manufactured a big wooden pedal that pushed my leg out by clear of the bike frame. Being able to cycle on the bike was amazing…at last I was doing some exercise where I was getting out of breath, getting sweaty my adrenaline started flowing and endorphins were released and I smiled for the first time in a long time.
I still had to strengthen my bone by walking on it and so I drove down to a place called Rother Valley where the path went round a lake and was therefore flat.
I set off walking using my crutches. Every step that I took caused me to grunt out loud in pain and suffering… the pain was draining the energy out of me. The muscles in my leg moving around the pins causing them to tear the skin and bleed… but I carried on until I couldn’t go any further and luckily there was a park bench that I could sit down on.
I sat down…and I cried. I cried because I was exhausted. I cried because I was in so much pain and discomfort. But mainly I cried because I was disappointed. Disappointed in the distance I had managed. The pedometer I was wearing told me I had covered a distance of half a mile!!!
Half a mile was a joke…it was ridiculous… I used to be a runner completing marathons and 10K races.
Eventually I stopped crying and I realised that I had to get back to the car and the only way to get there was to pick myself up and walk back which I did grunting again on every step of the way through the agonising pain.
I drove home and suffered with the painful after effects of my session.
A sleepless night with pain and muscle spasm and the next day I suffered with exhaustion and continued ongoing discomfort and aches.
And then…the next day I got up and I drove back to Rother Valley Park and I did it all again.
Because this is what I had to do to achieve my goal. This is what I had to do to grow the bone back in my leg. And sometimes I fell…and many times I cried…but eventually I got past that park bench and I made it to the next one and then after that the next one and I achieved. Through my hard work and dedication my bone grew back and by 2004 my cage came off leaving me with a leg…but one with a severe disability in that I had loss of muscle, limited feeling and only partial movement especially around the ankle and foot and would have constant pain every day for the rest of my life.
This was my normality and I stress MY normality because everybody is different, don’t go comparing yourself to other people.
I continued to push myself physically concentrating on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t do such as swimming and cycling events.
At the beginning of 2009 I found new challenge of something called a Paratriathlon…which was swimming, cycling and running for disabled people.
I had ruled running out of my life due to my disability but now I had a goal. As I worked towards my goal I started running more and more. My brain knew what to do but my legs were heavily restricted and the immense pain was draining. I was running again…it was amazing.
Two things I want to tell you about the triathlon is that:
- It happened to be at Rother Valley Park where I had done my walking rehabilitation
- The event was British Championships
The triathlon starts off with 750m swim in the open water lake and at this point I was leading my category, out of the swim through transition and onto the bike where we cycle 20km around the lake of Rother Valley.
Coming off the bikes I was still leading in my category, through transition and onto the 5km run section around the lake.
I was struggling both physically and emotionally.
My closest competitor was catching me up but I kept pushing on until I crossed the line in first place and became the new British Champion.
I was in tears…tears of release…because I DID it!
I had achieved my goal and I think this opened up the possibilities and what I could do and it released an anger that I had deep down…one that I had buried…an anger that I was going to use to push myself…to prove to myself that the accident hadn’t stopped me. I had always said that the accident hadn’t ruined my life…it had just changed it…and now this was my chance to fight back…to prove that it hadn’t had a detrimental effect on my life.
I trained hard with passion, channelling my anger and setting myself new goals. I had a family with two children a full-time job and now I was training as an elite athlete in swimming cycling and running …balancing time was difficult but not impossible…we all have time… it’s how we cultivate that time as to what we achieve.
And I achieved…over the next couple of years as European champion and also World Champion out in Beijing in 2011. And I was completing my journey…chapter by chapter.
In 2012 I was beaten in the European Championships by an incredible 4 minutes by a new Italian competitor called Michele Ferrarin. With such a massive win it occurred to me that I would not be able to beat Ferrarin at the World Championships in six months’ time in New Zealand and so I set my goal for silver or bronze medal position.
I realised that I was leaning on an excuse…and so I turned that excuse into a challenge… in that I now had 6 months to get 4 minutes quicker…that was my goal.
Then it came, judgement day. The race started and as the Italian is a strong swimmer he glided through the water and out of sight. I was chasing him on the bike in second place feeling my legs burning with the effort. Off the bike, through transition knowing that the run was my last chance to catch him. I was slowly closing in on Ferrarin. Eventually I caught up with him and coming up to the final corner I gave it everything so that I had no regrets and I managed to cross the finish line to grab … the gold medal as World Champion for the second time.
2013 and Michael Ferrarin beat me again in the European Championships and again I did not lean on my excuse and again I turned it into a 6 month challenge to get faster in preparation for the World Champs that this year would be in LONDON. What was happening was that as I was getting faster…so was he!!!
Once again, judgement day. Focused of being the best that I could be and the race started…and Ferrarin was way ahead of me in the swim and bike section…Through the second transition and onto the run and I was chasing. My Mother, Sister and Brother were letting me know how far ahead the Italian was which I wanted to know but I also remember thinking “So What” …I couldn’t go any faster I was flat out giving it absolutely everything. I saw Michael way up ahead of me and was so focused as I dug down deep catching him stride by stride using every ounce of energy. And coming round the final corner and pushing it hard…through the line to be delighted to grab…the silver medal.
Michael Ferrain finished 30 seconds in front of me but believe me when I say I was ecstatic with my accomplishment. I had been the best that I could be in all of my training and race preparation, nutrition, focus and I had been the best that I could be on the day and because of this I had absolutely no regrets.
And I learnt that’s what success is…its about being the best that you can be.
Someone asked me once, if I could go back in time and NOT have the accident would I do it, as I would miss out on all of the medals and the glory and achievement…and I said YES…absolutely.
I nearly died back in 2002 and now I’m in pain every single day and I don’t know what the future holds for me as I may end up in a wheelchair in the future…but…seeing as they haven’t invented a time machine yet… I can’t go back in time and change anything.
And the fact is, things happen in life… it’s how you deal with it that matters and this is how I’m dealing with it. And so…I’ve retired from International competition now, and I’m now on the next chapter of my journey.
I now run my own business as an Inspirational and Motivational speaker and a Personal life coach. My new goals are to help people to inspire others and motivate many.
We all have dreams…its about turning our dreams into our goals and working towards them. It’s not always about the time, resources or opportunities…it’s about US…our drive, our motivation…our commitment. We all have time… it’s how we cultivated OUR time as to what we achieve…so in life…we must always be the best that we can be… so that we have no regrets. Don’t lean on your excuses…turn YOUR excuses into challenges.