View from the Chair
I will focus this month's blog on my personal journal of the scuba challenge 'going the extra mile'. The event seemed to have a life of its own, creating so much interest with experienced and novice divers wanting to join Graham and I, not to mention our swimmers, and it has motivated others to think about other' going the extra mile' challenge events.
Terry and the guys from Cybaqua were steadily preparing for the event, and day by day I was on the phone adding another diver, then another and another. I was surprised that he had enough kit to go round. The online donations on our Just Giving site grew larger by the day, as did the number of sponsor forms I was carrying around to meetings in and out of work. I wish I could thank everyone individually but that would be impossible as there are so many generous people who have supported us, many whom we have never met. During the first few weeks of the month Graham and I put in extra training at Irlam Baths and I did a bit of research on energy foods that I was planning on taking before the challenge, it was either that or a meat and potato pie at the Wolves game before the dive! It took me back twenty two years to the days when I played American Football, with lots of bananas, eggs, chicken and pasta, ok not in the same bowl.
During our last session at Irlam, a photographer from our friends at Warrington Worldwide joined us and took a few promotional shots, which unknown to us at the time would be used for a front page article. Thanks Gary. The week before the event I watched Warrington Wolves' opening game of the Super League season, and it wasn't good, in fact it couldn't get much worse, not only did we get beaten on points, but seven players picked up injuries, some very bad, like Matt Kings knee ligament injury that will keep him out for several months. During the next few days after the game I was contacted by several members of the Wolves coaching staff who were interested in the challenge event and my journey since the accident twenty two years ago. The outcome was an invite from Tony Smith to join the team at their training ground on the Friday before the next game and the day of the event. I was joined by my grandson and rugby buddy Jamie. As we were introduced I looked around the room and felt somewhat in awe of the men and boys who were there. I started off by explaining what life was like for my family in 1989, and what had happened on the day, and following months and years. I focussed on how fragile our bodies really are and about how precious life is and not to take anything for granted as I once did. I also mentioned that after recovering a sense of worth and understanding about what my body could do, I was devastated when I was eleven years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I was asked what kept me going and I explained that it was focussing on the positives, looking for what one can do and not dwelling on what we can't do. I explained about the loss of funding for DAD and hence the scuba challenge 'going the extra mile'. It felt very good to see and hear the responses from the team, especially from the lads who were in the treatment room recovering from their injuries. That's where I lost Jamie; Matt King had taken him to one side to do a little passing practise. Jamie was star struck as Matt is one of his favourite players. But I'm not sure if he still is after Matt signed his shirt 'to Jimmy all the best from Matt'. Interestingly Jamie shrugged his shoulders and suggested that he might change his name to Jimmy!
Once outside Jamie was invited onto the field to help out with taking water bottles to the lads, I can still picture him pulling along a carrier that looked nearly as big as him with four full water bottles, but he wasn't to be beaten, it was his hour of glory as all the lads thanked him. I can also picture him standing in front of Adrian Morley, another of Jamie's heroes. He handed Adrian the water bottle and stood there looking up, mouth wide open, it was a picture. During his time on the field I got to talk with Wolves Head Coach Tony Smith. He was very encouraging about the dive and he thanked me for what he felt was an inspiring talk to the lads. I was struck by his philosophy of developing the player's skills on and off the field. He said that it was all too easy for them to become complacent super stars, but he wanted them to show respect to the fans and the community that support them week after week. Well after three hours it was time to leave, an eventful day all round, one that I as well as Jamie won't ever forget. The day of the challenge was soon upon us, but there was a big game for the Wolves before our dive and Graham, Jamie and I were there cheering the Wolves on to a much deserved win. Was it the talk, or was the lads hard work, I will settle for a bit of both!
It was soon six o'clock and we arrived at Fordton Leisure Centre for the event. Terry and the Cybaqua crew were busy unloading the equipment. The WDP team were busy getting everyone registered. The divers were kitting up and our families and friends were taking their seats in the spectator's area. At around six fifteen I called everyone together to welcome them and thank them for helping to create a great atmosphere, after wishing everyone good luck I finished off by mentioning that it wasn't a race and it was about taking part! I thought I was addressing Graham as he does have a competitive streak, but I'd not counted on Simon, the chief executive at 5 Boroughs NHS Foundation Trust were we both work. As soon as he was in the water he was off, well not straight away, he did slow down to support his son Thomas once or twice. His finishing time was 53 minutes, which is an excellent time for the mile. Graham followed a few minutes behind, but the jury is out on his claim that Rachel, his son Tom's girlfriend might have miscounted and in fact he may have done ten lengths extra. It is interesting that Rachel is best of friends with Simon, but I won't go there; after all he is my boss.
For me it was a more realistic pace, slow, slow and slower to be exact. After ten lengths I felt a deep pain in my one good shoulder which was probably due to the weeks of training. I managed to stop a few time (under water) whilst John my dive buddy for the day adjusted my weights. But once into a rhythm the next thirty lengths flew by, and at forty five lengths John signalled that I should change my tank as I was low on air. As I surfaced my wife Pam handed me a drink, but just reaching for the bottle was excruciatingly painful. The stretching hadn't done me much good; in fact my single arm long stroke was now reduced to a very small flicker type movement, but it kept me going between several rests lying on the bottom. At one stage I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep, thinking that I would wake up and it would be over. But eventually John counted down the lengths from ten, and then somehow I saw one finger. This was it just one to go. One final push to the finish and as I surfaced everyone was standing around the pool cheering and clapping. As I hung onto the edge of the pool I remember seeing Simons face with a huge smile, then Barry grabbed hold of my tank as I slid back into the water. I remember looking around and feeling a huge sense of achievement, a sense that I hadn't felt for twenty two years, the sense of a physical achievement, which is strange given everything we have achieved during the past twenty years with WDP and DAD. But this was different; it was a physical effort that I shared, and not by just watching others. One of the highlights of the day was swimming the last length with my son Gavin. Ironically I finished at the opposite end to the pool hoist and had to swim back to get out. But on the way back John handed me a stud earring that had glistened at me each time I swam past it. It's strange how something so small became a focus even though I was totally exhausted. My spirits were lifted as one by one everyone came forward as I handed out their 'going the extra mile' certificates and Simon handed me mine.
Overall it was a great start to our 'going the extra mile' events that we will be running to raise the funds needed for this year's 20th anniversary DAD event. Whilst I'm on that subject by the end of February we have raised nearly £6,000 towards our target. Which is absolutely fantastic, and past our expectations. Earlier this week the Wolves kept up their winning run with a fantastic victory over St Helens, a win that Wolves fans have waited for many years. Keep it up lads, Wigan are only a few weeks away!
Before I finish I should mention another great effort put in by Team WDP. In my last blog I mentioned the decision to keep open the Disability Information Point located in Warrington Market. Well several weeks on and its working fine. There have been a few teething problems, but our great team of volunteers and our one remaining member of staff have pulled together to keep the service open.
Until next time, thank you and take care.