Coming home my strongest fear was, would I ever really be happy again? Would I ever be satisfied with how my life pans out? I don’t want to get fat in my chair. Eight months in rehab can really effect your mind. I don’t think I have changed all that much just I depend on people to do so much for me. Sitting in the wheelchair is the easiest part. The lack of independence is the hardest. This time last year I depended on only one person. Me! Just me on my own. Looking back it was fantastic!

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in face.”

Mike Tyson


This last year I have been punched twice. Really really hard. Once in the balls!


I left so many things at the bottom of that tree that night. My independence being the main thing that I am missing the most.
The shot to the balls was the death of my Dad last month. It has left a hole in my heart. All I can fill it with is hope. If I don’t fill it with hope, I’ll have a hole in my heart.


What is the one thing that means the most to me? Independence. Independence, in its least form to me, means turning myself in bed, getting out of bed, showering, dressing, preparing breakfast and transferring in to my car, all independently. At this point I will be ready to tackle the day in which ever way I choose to live my life. In rehab we practised all of the above and I am getting better at each of them. The more I can do for myself the less reliant I’ll be on others, which will make me happier.


What will make these easier to achieve? Well I have identified the two main areas which need to be improved. It’s quite simple and obvious. I need to become physically stronger and my hands need to improve big time. I have been working on both with my highly motivating and enthusiastic trainer. Since I have returned from Guttmann I have been continuing to exercise with Colin working up to three days a week in the gym. We have been strengthening my upper body and we have even accessed muscle groups further down my trunk. Progress is steady but slow, but there have been some noticeable improvements. I box with Colin once a week which is great for balance and fitness. The first time I boxed I struggled to reach 100 punches. Last week I smashed 1000 punches.


We have been working on my wrists and again they have increased in range, mobility and strength. The next step is to regain motor function in my hands. I have a NeuroRehabilitation Specialist coming down from Dublin with an electrical stimulation device. To my knowledge she has not worked on someone with a spinal cord injury. Typically the device is used on stroke patients and brain injuries. Hopefully this piece of equipment will enhance my hands ability to function, thus regaining the desired independence that I long for. There is also another piece of equipment that I have been actively seeking since my return from Guttmann which will exercise my hands. This is just another case of me wanting to try absolutely everything that is available. Most of my improvements will happen in the first two years and I need to make them count. I’m one year down today.


Colin also works on goal settings with me which has cleared up a lot of confusion as to where I want my life to go and what are the most important aspects of my life that need to be worked on the most. Identify it: Independence. Now, how do we get there? What are the necessary steps involved to achieve that goal? Write it out so you can consult it so as not to lose your way. This exercise was extremely important to me as it made me realise what I really want and need. We have mapped out a way in which to achieve the goals set.


So this brings me to a sport which will allow me to get stronger so I can reach independence quicker. When I came back from Guttmann it was clear that a lot of work had been done by my friends to get me back on the water pretty much straight away. I was introduced to the two Paralympic sailing coaches who saw potential in getting me to Rio for the Paralympics in 2016. The qualifying events were identified and plans were put in place to get me to these events. I realised that this was a highly ambitious task. I continued to train with friends with this ambition in the back of my mind. I recently went to a wheel chair rugby training session where I realised that the sport I choose to work at will improve my strength. I’m not sure do I really like to play wheel chair rugby, or murder ball as it used to be called, I don’t think it is for me. Unfortunately with sailing and the position I will be in it does not offer the cardiovascular activity I need to strengthen myself. I need my heart to work hard.


At the moment I have so many things going on in my life. It has been an absolute tragic year. This weekend marks my first year with a disability. It has been extremely difficult for my whole family and with the death of my father last month my mind just isn’t in the right state to take on such an ambitious project. We as a family need to work together to rebuild our lives. Mom, Aisling and Darren need my support as much as I need theirs. Aisling and Darren have completely up rooted their lives to improve mine. The quicker I can achieve a fairly independent life the easier they will find it to concentrate on their own. We all need to be happy with the direction of our lives. At the moment neither of them have been fortunate to secure full-time jobs which is worrying for them even though they don’t show it.


After all that has happened in recent weeks with Dad dying it has become a case of too much too soon. My main focus is my family and my independence. But I still need to find a sport. I think I have found one that I will be able to focus on which doesn’t require too much assistance. It will build up my strength.


I do wish to continue with sailing but without so much commitment. It is something I wish to return to when the time is right for me.


I also wish to get back to work and earn my own money. I have always had my own job, I have been working in some sort of a job since I was 13. I read an interesting fact recently from a spinal cord injury Ireland booklet which stated that 70% of people who suffer from a spinal cord injury do not return to work. I hope I won’t fall into this statistic. I have been looking at furthering my education and adjusting my capabilities to suit my disability as manoeuvring inside a ship and it’s engine room as a crew member cannot happen.


At the NKT fundraising ball in my speech I said, “with the family and friends I have anything is possible”. It was true from the moment I hit the ground beneath the tree, and it is certainly true now with no sign of fading. Thanks to everyone who attended and the organisers who did a fantastic job to make it a special night no for me.


In my dreams I am still walking.

6 thoughts on “Independence

  1. I wish you well. Thank you for the update.

  2. Your courage is inspirational Nathan, and I have no doubt you will achieve your goals. in the fullness of time. Sad to hear about the loss of your Dad and its hard to imagine why any family gets kicked so hard…but God works in mysterious ways indeed!

  3. I am so sorry to hear about your Dad’s death. I will be thinking about you on your journey and urging you on to what I already know you can achieve.

  4. You seem to have a way with words and expressing your thoughts. Develop that, plenty of work for good writers.

  5. What an inspirational young man. Keep up everything you are doing. So sorry to hear about your dad but I bet he was pleased yo see you progressing and to see your determination..keep strong in mind and faith

  6. Hi Nathan, Im so sorry to hear of your loss of your Dad, on top of everything else this must be devasting for you. I however want to say that you are a complete hero in my eyes and probably many others, showing courage and inspiration at the lowest times. I am sure that with your determination and with the great support of your family things must get better. Puts things into perspective certainly.

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