3rd Dec 2019
Behind every man, there stands a stronger woman. I honestly believe that. It’s tattooed on my arm.
There are two other quotes tattooed there as well. They all mean something personal to me. I’ll tell you about them later.
I was 29 when the motorbike accident happened. I’m paralysed from my nipples down, but apparently, I’m too able bodied to play what’s called ‘wheelchair rugby’. The Americans call it Murderball – it’s like a cross between basketball, rugby and volleyball. But what rugby game do you know where you play with a round ball and you can pass forward? It’s nothing like Wheelchair Rugby League.
Yes, I am opinionated. And loud. I’ve always been loud. Before my accident, I worked in construction and as a doorman. You have to be loud in those jobs.
I play Wheelchair Rugby League now for Halifax and England, and I’m very vocal there too. I’m one of the more senior people in the game, so I have to be. I lead by example and being quiet isn’t going to do that. It’s all about what I can teach players around me and the legacy I can leave for the next generation.
I would have passed Maths too, but I just couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed for the exam.
I’m not good at taking instructions myself though. I’ve never been good with being told what to do. At school, I spent a lot of time of time in the corridor. I left school with one GCSE – English. And even that shouldn’t have happened, because I’m dyslexic! I would have passed Maths too, but I just couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed for the exam. When I left school, I ended up working at McDonald’s.
I had a troubled childhood. Looking back, it wasn’t the best. So I’ve always been quite self-sufficient, always done my own thing. I was a bit of a lad.
I’ve always been a fighter too. I did a bit of boxing when I was younger, as well as playing rugby for Wakefield Trinity Academy, Dewsbury Rams and Stanley Rangers.
I was a doorman around Wakefield as well. I was good at it. I could handle myself, but the best skill you need as a doorman is to be able to diffuse a situation, to read people and their body language before anything happened. If it looked like there was a situation developing, I’d just walk straight into the middle of it. Nine times out of 10, things would fizzle out.
Family life eventually took over from the rugby. I have an amazing daughter, Ilisha, and a little monster called Trey. He’s just started playing rugby.
Ilisha represented Great Britain at gymnastics. I was so proud. She’s a lot like me – very competitive, driven, determined. I wouldn’t say I was the best father in the world, but judging by the speech she gave at mine and Cheryl’s wedding this year, she seems to think I am. I’ve known Cheryl a long time. She’s the sister of one of my best friends. She’s wonderful.
The tattoo I mentioned earlier ‘Behind every man there stands a stronger woman’, that was for Stacey who I was with at the time of my accident. Things never worked out, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. She was a rock.
The accident and the aftermath were traumatic. I felt lost. For the first couple of years after it, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself and the rest of my life. Was it a life? Did I even want to carry on living? I did look into the options.
For four months, I had to go to the toilet in bed and for the first four years after my accident, going to the toilet was still traumatic.
Everything I knew as normal was no longer normal. Everything. And I had no dignity. For four months, I had to go to the toilet in bed and for the first four years after my accident, going to the toilet was still traumatic. Constipation meant bacteria leaking into my system, which meant severe headaches and lethargy. I had to pay for colonics just to be able to go to the toilet.
Sex is one thing that massively changes too, but it’s the toilet thing that really gets to you. Peristine irrigation changed everything. That one piece of equipment changed my life. Once I could do the basics like bathe myself and go to the toilet properly, I was over the worst. Once you get to grips with the basics, you can start to rebuild your life.
Sex is one thing that massively changes too, but it’s the toilet thing that really gets to you
Wheelchair sport also helped bring me out of it. It was like starting life all over again. ‘Within the small sphere of our life we can gaze upon the past, but only the future is within our grasp’. That’s another one of my tattoos.
A bloke called Pat Dolan from RGK came to fit me for my personalised wheelchair and we got talking. This was in the early days of Wheelchair Rugby League and he told me about a new team, the Cardinals, starting up in Halifax. I told him I’d love to be able to do something like that. I missed the competitive side of rugby, the physicality, the team environment and the banter.
Wheelchair sport also helped bring me out of it. It was like starting life all over again.
When I went down to the venue, it was off season for rugby, but there was wheelchair basketball on so I had a go at that. I really enjoyed it. Looking back, it was probably even more challenging than the rugby. I’d been a rugby player before and the way Wheelchair Rugby League is played meant that it was easy to slip straight in. I had skills I could translate.
Chair skills – chasing everything, throwing yourself around – are the biggest part of any wheelchair sport, so my basketball experience really benefited me.
The RFL are really behind the wheelchair game now and we are going from strength to strength.
Wheelchair Rugby League is similar to the running game – the ball, the rules, the angles of attack and defence, and the speed. It was easy for me to make the transition and everything has just gone from there.
This year I won a Challenge Cup winner’s medal with Halifax - we've won it every year except one since it started - won a Grand Final and toured Australia with England. It was a perfect Ashes tour. Amazing. The team finally bonded, which is for me what was missing. The Wheelaroos weren’t ready for the wall of white and we smashed every game.
Now we’re building towards the 2021 World Cup. The RFL are really behind the wheelchair game now and we are going from strength to strength.
That third tattoo? ‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling but getting up every time we do’.
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