The first post-selection task was to collect our team kit at a Paralympic training weekend at Solihull. We took the opportunity to do some intensive training whilst we were there. The amount of kit we were issued with was astronomical. Track suits, jogging suits, water proof suits, dress suits, blazers, shirts, ties, shoes, trainers, socks, t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, rucksacks, hats, base ball caps, water bottles, and most importantly bum bags were all handed out. We were all asked to make sure our kit fitted us, and unlike the kit we got when the kit was supplied by BBS, the vast majority was an exact fit. The only kit which did not fit me was the best shoes we were ever given. A swop shop was held and I managed to get a perfect fit, a pair of Loakes shoes which lasted me until the Atlanta Paralympics when I picked up my next pair of quality shoes.
At the time, other than spending most of my time with my ex, my social life revolved around going out with my friends at a weekend, as most 22 year olds do, and a lot of that time was spent in Bridlington rugby club. Once I had gained official selection for Barcelona a lot more people started to take an interest in my preparations and prospects. At that time I was receiving no funding from any official body and was living off state benefits of £38 a week. One of the rugby club regulars, MC, took particular interest. MC had moved to Bridlington from the Peterborough area, and as a result was known throughout Bridlington as Cockney M.
It must be noted at this point that Bridlington, being miles away from anywhere of any note, is very insular. Non-Bridlingtonians are split into two main camps, Wessies and Cockney’s. Cockney’s strictly speaking are supposed to be born within earshot of bow bells, but in Bridlington anyone south of Nottingham is a Cockney – they all sound the same to us! The Wessies are in theory people, who like me, either live in, or originate from, West Yorkshire. However, Bridlington folk use this term very indiscriminately, and in effect any person who visits Bridlington that is not a Cockney so described is obviously a Wessie. Therefore, if ever in Bridlington, try wondering around the town centre, aimlessly getting in the way of the locals, or step onto the road in front of a car and pin back your ears to find out if you are a bloody Wessie or a bloody Cockney. You might be surprised.
Cockney M took it upon himself to raise some money for me to help me prepare for the championships and to give me some money to help me once out at the championships. He badgered most businesses throughout the town and bit by bit the money started to role in. A benefit night was arranged at the Cock and Lion nightclub, where a raffle was held using prizes that had been donated by locals and local businesses. Every time a prize was drawn out the winner donated it back and an auction was held. It was amazing to see everyone dipping into their pockets to help me out. It was probably more to do with M’s enthusiasm and popularity that somewhere in the region of £1000 was raised for me. I owe M a great debt of gratitude and that money certainly helped me to prepare for Barcelona.
M’s money was soon required for additional physiotherapy. My friend JK was back home on leave from the army. Since the first Gulf War, JK hadn’t been back in Bridlington that much, so such events were treated like a sort of homecoming. It was to be my last night out before I went tea total for the rest of the season. Being 22 and out for a laugh, it was decided that we were going to do 20 pubs by last orders. At first I was horrified, there was no way I would be able to drink 20 pints, not if I wanted my usual donna kebab at the end of the evening. However, it was decided we would only do halves, so being young and foolish I thought it sounded like a laugh. The last time we had tried such an endeavor we had worn Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and taken out blow up crocodiles with us and wrestled them in pubs around town. On that night we spent 10 minutes trying to out run a police van before we realised it was JK’s dad who was a copper asking him what time he’d be in at.
The night went well. We entered a pub, I went to the toilet, we downed our halves and then moved on to the next hostelry where the procedure was followed. Much hilarity ensued, and by last orders we had managed to accomplish our goal of 20 pubs; we actually did 24! I felt very drunk, but at that stage in my life that was nothing new, as like the rest of my friends we did tend to put a fair bit of beer away every weekend, and had done so since we had started working at about 18 or so. However, I didn’t feel like doing a club and having to evade the usual threats of violence, so I took JK and his girl friend M up on their offer to walk me home. As JK was, and still is, fairly hap hazard with his guiding, I decided to let M guide me. We were so busy chatting and telling her all about the fun and games we had had earlier in the evening that I lost track of the route we were taking back home. I was in the middle of describing some hilarious act when M slowed down and said “step”. As she had said step singular I presumed that we had reached a curb and so stepped off and kept on walking as normal. However, a few things told me that I was not stepping off a curb. The first thing was the fact that my second footstep didn’t touch the floor when I put it down on what I thought was the road. The second was the scream that came out of M’s mouth. The third was the angular bits of concrete that I kept bouncing off. When the screaming and bouncing stopped, I realised that I had fallen down a flight of steps. As I heard water lapping nearby, I immediately knew that I had fallen down the flight of steps that led to the harbour edge. I had never in all my days gone this way home, and my first thought was “who put those bloody steps there?” My second thought was that my knee was hurting a bit, but I wasn’t too concerned as I could walk on it reasonably well. I said I was fine and managed to limp home with no major problem.
When we got back to my house JK, like the good soldier that he was, explained to my Mum and Dad that I had taken a fall and then quickly sounded the retreat, leaving the casualty in the crossfire of one concerned parent and one fuming parent. He told me later that despite my protestations that it was just an accident, if looks could kill then JK would most certainly be dead, and my dad guilty of murder. Good old Flynn started to lick the blood off my knee which was poring out of my torn jeans, and after I had got cleaned up I went to bed telling mum and dad not to worry as I was sure it was just a bit of a bang. However, when I woke in the morning my knee had locked solid. It was only six weeks before the Paralympics. My last night out could possibly be my last night out ever if JA found out. “Gladiators ready? Athletes ready?” – not really J, my bloody leg wont bend.
The first thing I realised was that I was completely unable to walk. I had banged my knee before, I had sprained my ankle and badly torn my hamstring, all things that meant one leg was useless. On such occasions I had hopped everywhere, but it was impossible to hop on one leg whilst the other was locked solid in a straight position. The only way I could move was to walk backwards and drag the leg in its locked position behind me. Going down steps was less difficult, as I could hold onto the banister and hold the straight leg out in front of me and hop my way down, but going up steps backwards was quite tricky.
After lots of tears from my mum, and angry threats from my dad, we went up to casualty to see what damage had been done. Being guided was extremely problematic. I had to walk backwards, dragging my leg along, which meant that the person who was guiding me had to face me, with me holding onto their shoulders for balance whilst they held on to my waist. The result looked like we were ballroom dancing into the casualty department. No serious damage had been done according to the doctors, time as usual would heal it. The question was just how much time?