When James Dwyer was laying in hospital paralysed following a freak weightlifting accident, he had one goal in mind: to lift his two-year-old son Dexter in his arms again.
And with the help of a specialist spinal cord rehabilitation centre near Gatwick, the 36-year-old from Emerald Quay, Shoreham Beach, has made that a reality.
He said: “I was in denial for a long time that maybe some feeling would come back.
“But I tried to focus on what I can still do. I still had my arms so I wanted to play with Dexter and wash myself and not be a burden.”
On October 5, James was training for the Southern Masters Olympic Weightlifting Competition when he carried out a 65kg ‘snatch lift’ above his head and lost his grip. The bar slammed down on his back, instantly paralysing him from the belly button down. He said: “I fully expected to stand up, but I just couldn’t move. I was in excruciating pain.”
James was initially taken to Brighton General Hospital before being transferred to Haywards Heath for rehabilitation and then the specialist spinal cord injury unit at Stoke Mandeville for two months until February.
Having regained some of the 10kg of weight he lost, upper body strength and learned how to use a wheelchair, James was referred to Neurokinex, which helps clients work below their injury in standing and walking exercises.
Trainers helped him wheelbarrow walk – a technique he now used to walk up stairs – and used electrical stimulation therapy and activity-based rehabilitation to have James standing and walking to activate his leg muscles.
His trainer Marilla Cameron said: “We knew from the outset that James is a strong and determined man which is perfect for us to work with. His training mindset from Olympic lifting before his accident remained and we use that to channel his energy and effort.”
Now, James has joined a wheelchair racing club at Worthing Leisure Centre and is training for competitions and planned to do a half-marathon next year.
He said: “After it happened, I really knew what was important in my life, and it wasn’t money: it was time with my family and trying to enjoy life. It doesn’t last very long so you have to enjoy it while you can. I would not have come to that realisation as quickly had this not happened.”
Follow James’ journey on Instagram at @jamesdwyeruk.