Up until 10 years ago I was a fit, healthy, happy, 45-year-old guy. I did triathlons, weight training, yoga, rowing and martial arts, and I was a circus performer too. Then in the blink of an eye my life was turned upside down and I was fighting for my life in hospital.
A serious motorbike accident left me with a broken sternum, five broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and a badly injured knee, back and hip. My left lung had been punctured by one of the broken ribs and the right lung was also very badly bruised. Shortly after the accident, both lungs failed and I began to slowly die.
A doctor told my family that she knew of a machine called an ECMO machine that could possibly save my life. The machine is similar to the heart-lung by-pass machine used in open-heart surgery. It pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. There were four of these machines at a heart/lung hospital in Leicester, but even if one of them was available my chance of surviving was only about 15%.
As it turned out, three of the machines were being used to treat three special forces soldiers who had been injured in Afghanistan. So I was put in an ambulance and police escorted from Hereford to Leicester, placed in an induced coma, and connected to the machine for seven days. The machine essentially takes blood out of your body, oxygenates it, filters it, warms it up and returns it to your body, giving your lungs time to repair.
The machine did its job, and four weeks later I was discharged from hospital. The hospital wanted to keep me in for another month but I wanted to go home. I was severely debilitated and struggled to do anything physically. I couldn’t run, cycle, swim or lift weights – even walking was a major effort that left me breathless. I ballooned from a very fit 11 stone to 18 stone, I had very high blood pressure and on the verge of diabetes as a result I was suffering from severe depression. When I felt like I just couldn’t take it any longer, one day I decided to take my own life.
I’m not exactly sure what intervened that day, but shortly after leaving my daughters house to find somewhere away from anyone I was struck down with a crippling bout of sciatica. I sunk onto all fours, turned myself around and slowly crawled the few hundred metres home. My PC was still on and my Facebook page was open, and on my newsfeed was the following quote by Lao Tzu:
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
I had studied psychology and had heard and read this quote many times, and it had never meant anything until that day. But in that moment I totally understood what it meant, and something clicked in my head. I began to sob loudly, then before I knew it I was laughing and crying at the same time. (I have now been a Buddhist for six years and in this time I have never felt suicidal again. I still feel sad and down sometimes, but this usually passes within an hour – the black dog has gone).
As quickly as my life had been turned on its head, I resolved to do everything I could to rediscover my old self. I cut down to three small meals a day, started walking, then walk/jogging, then jogging, then running. Three months later I was six stone lighter, and that was when I mustered up the confidence to try parkrun.
I had joined some running forums online and got talking to a local chap who told me about parkrun. He mentioned that Delamere parkrun was close to us, so I arranged to meet up with him and a few of his friends one Saturday morning. I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect, as the last time I had ever run with anyone was when I was running at school. I stood at the start line and when the air horn blew I took off like a rocket, which was a big mistake! After 2k my legs started to die, and at around 4k there was a steep hill I had to walk up because my legs would not carry me. Once at the top however I ran the rest of the way to the finish, where my newfound friends were waiting and cheering me on. My time was about 40 minutes – a far cry from the 16 minute runner I had been years before – but the important thing was that it reignited my old competitive spirit and I was determined to improve. I had caught the bug.
Everyone I met was so helpful and friendly and it inspired me to run more and to take part in as many parkruns as I could. parkrun has been a massive part of my recovery process – it has motivated me to get off the sofa and onto the streets, particularly when I started a job where I work on Saturdays and can’t get to parkrun as often as I’d like. Over the following three years I worked really hard, adding yoga and strength work into my fitness programme. Then earlier this year I broke the magical 20 minute barrier at parkrun.
But the best thing about parkrun for me has been the people I have met there. My fellow runners who encourage me, the volunteers who make it all happen, and the course marshals who cheer everyone along every step of the way. parkrun is a great place for all the family; two of my daughters, a couple of my grandchildren and one of my daughter’s husbands have all started going regularly and they all love it. It’s a great thing we can all do together, with three generations of the same family enjoying a healthy, sociable and, in my case, life-changing activity.
My advice to anyone who has negative thoughts is not to dwell on them. If you sit there thinking about negative things you start to live them over and over again. I have turned my life around by living in the moment, and controlling my thoughts rather than letting them control me. I hope by sharing my story I can inspire and motivate others – whether that is to turn your life around or push yourself to achieve what you believe is impossible.
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