Disabilities and Inspiration – a true anecdote

Disabilities and inspiration


At school I used to arrange for various interesting people to come in to talk to the students. Dave was one of the most dynamic.

Dave was in his early thirties and had been paralysed from the waist down due to a back injury on a motorbike accident when he was just twenty one.

He had been a very active man who was very into his sport and mountain climbing. He’d come off his bike at speed and suffered a number of injuries. When he regathered his sensibilities he found he was in a hospital bed and couldn’t feel anything below his waist. The medics carried out a number of x-rays and tests and finally the doctor had informed him that there was nothing they could do. His spinal cord was damaged and he would never recover the use of his legs. He was paraplegic.

Dave told the students that he spiralled down into a deep depression. All that was in his mind was that he would never walk, run, play sport or have sex. From where he was life wasn’t worth living.

In the bed next to him was another young man who had also suffered a spinal injury from a motorbike accident. His was more severe. He was paralysed from the neck down with only very limited use of one of his upper limbs. All he could do was move a finger and thumb on one hand.

‘I’m so lucky,’ the guy told Dave.

Dave could not really believe his ears. The guy was paralysed from the neck down and was telling him how lucky he had been.

‘It’s early days for you, the guy continued, seeing the expression on Dave’s face. ‘You’ll see. If my break had been a centimeter higher I would have lost the use of my finger and thumb.

‘Big deal,’ Dave thought.

‘No you don’t understand,’ the guy explained. ‘That finger and thumb give me a life. I can operate a computer. I can use a wheelchair. I’m in control.’

It made Dave think. He had the full use of his arms. Life was a lot easier for him than the other guy. It was a turning point.

When Dave got out of hospital he was determined to do things. He made a list. He wanted to go sky-diving and skiing. The experts told him it wasn’t possible. If he hit the ground without control of his legs he could suffer nasty breaks and injuries. Dave was undeterred. He invented protective devices for his legs and found someone who could take him in tandem sky-diving, skiing, then water-skiing, snorkeling and tobogganing. Whenever there was an obstacle he found a way round it.

He learnt to fly planes and became a pilot.

The kids were inspired by him. He had done so much with his life. He been more places and experienced more things that any of the able-bodied people they knew. He filled them with his lust for life. They could see that he was determined to make the most of what he had.

The last time I saw Dave he was heading off to the USA. He had enrolled on a helicopter pilot’s course. He was going to fly helicopters and there was only one place in the world that ran courses for disabled people like Dave.

Dave left us all with the words careering through our minds that his injury had not disabled him; it had enabled him. It had made him realise that the major obstacle that prevented us from doing things was ourselves. Dave said that it turned his button from ‘maybe sometime’ to ‘GO’.

Life was for living. You had to maximise your experience, not be put off by the obstacles and not allow your own lethargy or fear to hold you back.

I think he was the most inspiring, full of life, person I have ever met.


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