I’ll admit to being a cynical person at times. In my (short) career as a Paracycling rider, I have seen people do amazing things on a bike. I have been out-ridden and put to shame by a guy with one arm and one leg. I have seen men in wheelchairs descend mountain passes on a handcycle faster than I can on my (speedy) road bike. And have been outsprinted to the finish line time and again by riders with one leg.
When you’re surrounded by such talented individuals who constantly push you to your limits, it’s hard to by inspired by them as they are your equals in many ways. You don’t look up to them so much as you just want to beat them! But to many others who look at our feats on a bike - we are inspirational in all that we do.
My point is, it can be very difficult to meet people that inspire ME. People who have a story or back ground that jumps out oat you - or are doing things under such difficult circumstances that it makes you stop in your tracks and re-examine everything you are doing in your own life.
But Matt Hampson is one of those people.
Most people outside the UK (or even IN the UK) probably won’t have heard of Matt. He was a talented rugby player with a bright future ahead of him, until a freak training accident in 2005. Whilst preparing for an England U21 Six Nations match, a scrum collapsed on him dislocating his neck and severing his spinal cord. The resultant injuries left him paralysed from the neck down and breathing via the aid of a ventilator.
Matt spent almost 2 years recovering from the injury. And whilst confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he hasn’t let his injuries slow him to a grinding halt as you might expect. He set up a charitable Foundation (http://matthampsonfoundation.org/) so that others who have suffered similar catastrophic injuries through sport can receive support and assistance.
As well as his Foundation duties which include, visiting, mentoring, providing advice and fundraising, Matt delivers inspirational talks to young people and businesses around the country. He is also a forwards coach at Oakham School and Oakham Rugby Club, an ambassador for both the RFU's injured Players Fund and Restart (The Professional Rugby Association's charity), Patron of Special Effect: a charity set up to help disabled children communicate through technology.
The Foundation has a driving ethos – to help people “Get Busy Living”. And whilst it normally has the express goal of helping younger, disabled people get into sport, it occasionally also helps people like me; the more ‘established’ athlete that needs an extra push to keep achieving their potential.
I approached the Foundation earlier this year with the hope of receiving some assistance with the purchase of some of my equipment for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Most people see my successes and podium finishes, but don’t realise the amount of financial resources that go into it. Virtually ALL my equipment is purchased by myself, and at the level I race at, it’s crucial to have to have the best possible equipment. Giving away valuable seconds in races due to sub-standard equipment would be a complete waste of all the training that we do in order to be our best.
I was invited up to the Foundation HQ back in February to meet with Matt. I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect. After meeting Tommy Cawston (CEO of the Foundation), I was introduced to Matt. They asked me to tell them my story and my background. As someone who lost a leg from playing rugby, I felt a certain kinship with Matt. It’s true that my situation and injuries pale in comparison, but at the root of it all, we were both just young adults with a certain gift for athletic endeavors, injured playing a sport we loved and left to deal with the aftermath.
And while I was there to talk about myself and try and convince these gentlemen that I was somehow worthy of their support, I couldn’t help but feel in awe of Matt and what he was doing to help others. As we spoke about what the Foundation does - and how I could play a role in inspiring other youngsters to be better and achieve their own goals (which isn’t always about racing at the highest level of the sport - sometimes it’s just about coming to terms with their injury and getting active again), I felt my creative juices begin to flow again.
All of a sudden it was no longer about myself and what I needed – it was about what I could do to help the next generation of disabled athlete achieve their goals. This was a defining moment for me – I had found someone to inspire ME. Someone that made we want to be a better person and give back instead of just taking. Here was an organisation that I wanted to be involved with; that would allow me to use my status as a Paralympic athlete to help improve the lives of kids who had suffered terrible injuries and were looking take back control of their lives and get involved in sport again.
So, for their part, the Foundation has helped me out with a generous donation that has helped purchase some of the much-needed equipment I’ll use for racing in Rio (and in the run-up to it). Without a doubt this equipment will have a big impact on my performances. And for my part, I’ve found an organisation I can get behind and stay involved with not just this year, but for many years to come.
I can’t wait to get out there with the Foundation, and help other people Get Busy Living!