Martyn Ashton has tasted glory on two wheels – winning world and British titles as one of the legends of mountain bike trials riding. Last week he walked down the corridor of The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH) in Shropshire. And he feels like a champion all over again.
Martyn is paralysed from the waist down, the result of an accident during an event in front of an audience of more than 500 people back in September 2013. Riding in a trials demo at the Silverstone MotoGP, the 40-year-old fell backwards off of a 10-foot high bar and hit the ground with force. "It was a spinning motion," he recalled. “I landed on my shoulders face down. My legs whipped around towards my face and that is what broke my back – I kind of snapped myself in half. I knew I was badly injured, and I pretty much knew what that injury was. But the feeling of horror was easily equalled by the feeling of relief that I was alive. I felt really grateful, and that was a bit of a gift right away.”
Martyn was initially taken to Coventry Hospital before being transferred to RJAH, a world renowned specialist orthopaedic hospital based on the outskirts of the market town of Oswestry. He spent five-and-a-half-months as an inpatient, slowly learning how to cope with his new life, but his positivity in the face of adversity has won him legions of new fans. His willpower was evident in July this year when he released a YouTube video called Back on Track, in which he was shown riding a specially adapted mountain bike at the Antur Stiniog trail in Snowdonia.
Martyn’s famous positivity was in evidence again last week when he was back at RJAH to learn how to use a Parawalker – a special device that allows him to experience, however fleetingly, the chance to get out of his wheelchair and move on his own two feet. He was under the care of Jenny Broadbent, a senior physiotherapist from the Orthotic Research and Locomotor Assessment Unit (ORLAU) at RJAH, who worked alongside physio Rob Fox and Technical Instructor Jayne Jones. The team develop engineering solutions for disabled patients and the Parawalker is one of the solutions they offer to help paralysed patients get a taste of being back on two feet. “It’s not really a form of transport,” said Martyn, “I won’t be walking to Tesco in it any time soon. But, when you’ve been in a wheelchair for so long, it’s a really great experience to be upright again. To be mobile is a really strange experience for me. It’s really hard work and I found it very tiring on my shoulders, but I love that ache; that feeling of having done exercise. It felt like I was defying all the rules. I did three laps of the gym the other day and I am paralysed – that is kind of funny. Jenny and the team from ORLAU have been amazing. Their enthusiasm and dedication is infectious.They told me it would be hard work but that is what’s cool for me – I wanted a challenge.”
To listen to Martyn talk now, you are struck by his determination and contentment with his situation, but he admits it has not always been that way.“I was pretty positive when I left hospital but I definitely went through a process after I left,” he said. “I had momentum when I left hospital and tried hard for quite a few months, but then I think I started to forget what it was that made me positive. My positivity turned into anger. I wanted to be doing more, to be making more progress. But you have to accept what is going on at any one time and be grateful for it. The moment I went through that process I felt so much more relaxed about things.I had a moment at home recently when I was in the kitchen just doing something normal; making a cup of coffee, I think,’” he added. “I looked down and it just struck me: ‘I’m in a wheelchair!’ Then I thought: ‘I’m enjoying it; I’m having a good time!’I can focus on the important things in life, and that has been an important lesson to learn.”
Located in Oswestry on the Shropshire and North Wales border, The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (RJAH) serves the local population in Shropshire, North and Mid Wales, Cheshire and the West Midlands, with a patient catchment extending nationally.A specialist orthopaedic hospital with a world-wide reputation for innovation and research, the Trust provides elective orthopaedic surgery and musculo-skeletal medical services, as well as particular areas of expertise including spinal injuries, bone tumour and disorders affecting muscular development.