This is the story of the ‘boy next door’ who, despite becoming a quad-amputee and facing untold traumas, went on to establish a national charity, was awarded an MBE and has partaken in numerous sporting challenges, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. His name is Ray Edwards and this is his tale…
Was I ever a ‘sporty’ guy? Not really. But disability forced me to change. From the age of 27 life became a downhill struggle, facing Hodgkin’s disease and the removal of my spleen, a course of chemotherapy, contracting septicaemia and becoming a quad amputee, a heart attack… the list goes on. But I started thinking about what I could attempt. Disability would never defeat me.
Swimming was an obvious choice, as it is one of the ‘easier’ activities and puts little strain on one’s limbs. The mental benefits are enormous and the sense of wellbeing immeasurable. Gardening is another love of mine and I’ve subsequently found ways to utilise my limbs in order to achieve an immaculate lawn and, with raised beds, an easily managed garden which brings me so much joy.
But there were greater challenges I wanted to tackle. Walking, although an initial struggle and so very tiring, gradually became easier and I now really enjoy it. So this is what led to my Kilimanjaro venture — perhaps my greatest challenge to date, and funnily enough the result of an impulsive response to a remark at the time.
Kilimanjaro… I had never thought of it, so why now? Yes indeed, this mountain is 5,200 metres high and has a rarefied atmosphere, so you might think it would be too difficult an undertaking for a person of my circumstances. But I am a man of my word, so a team was assembled and in September 2010, after months of training, we arrived in Nairobi. The facilities were outstanding and the people so helpful and friendly. I had, however, never acknowledged the struggles and implications of climbing a mountain — the vast temperature variations, the dust, the effort required to clamber over rocks and the discomfort even for an able-bodied person. And here I was — a quad amputee — again blazing the trail. I questioned my motives numerous times, but came to the conclusion — if I could prove to disabled persons that life could go on, that there was indeed a life after disaster, then I would have contributed something worthwhile to society. I could be an inspiration to others!
The climb of that volcano was arduous and at times embarrassing. The comradeship was fantastic though and so I continued, but the higher I got the more I struggled for breath. Sadly by day six, at 4,500 metres, I was suffering from a serious chest infection. I was eventually carried back down the mountain on a stretcher. I so hated having to give in. What I would have given to stand on that summit and say I had done it. Seventeen of the original 24 did, however, complete the challenge, raising a massive £86,000 for amputees.
I now visit a gym once a week and have even attempted golf — I like charity days in particular. Unfortunately there’ve been a few occasions where I’ve been fitted with a left iron on my right arm, the result being that the ball has often been seen flying through the air followed by an arm! I wouldn’t say it’s my most successful sporting activity, but at least I’ve given it a go.
Sport is a brilliant educator. Since the Paralympics in the UK last year, the eyes of the public have been opened. How many medals were won then? It just went to prove that less abled sports persons can achieve the same as any able-bodied person, and it’s a great inspiration for others to do likewise.
Ray recently launched his new book I’m Still Standing, an inspirational story of his life as a quad-amputee. He’s not one to sit still for long, and so from 5-7th June he’ll be taking on the Snowdon Challenge for his charity, Limbcare, and on 21st June, he’s planning to partake in the Wokingham Bikeathon.