I was born in 1982, and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth. The challenges, adversity and pain I have faced because of it began almost instantly. I was told I’d never walk or drive a car and would be confined to a wheelchair. In essence, the idea of a ‘normal’ childhood had been taken away from me at a very early age.
From that point on, my family, friends and colleagues saw me as disabled. I was ‘different’, and unable to do many of the normal activities others could, whether in school, work or life in general. As a child, I didn’t walk until I was 7. I went to a specialist primary school and had to use a taxi to get to school as I couldn’t get on and off the school bus. Looking back now, those were probably the things that made me more determined to prove everyone wrong.
I’ve always been interested in cars, for as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I have watched Formula 1, British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and most other forms of motorsport. I have always dreamt of being a racing driver, like many young boys.
I knew, however, that my legs would not cope with karting, a form of driving that enables children to begin racing and developing their skills. Therefore, I knew I would always be playing catch up. At that point, I wouldn’t say I gave up on my dream, but it got pushed to the side by life and responsibilities.
Upon reaching 17, I wanted to learn to drive a manual car. But my family disagreed and wanted me to learn in an automatic. This would have meant I could only ever drive an automatic, and, after all the limitations my disability had already placed upon my life, I decided this was one too many.
I had my first driving lesson in a manual car, which went quite well, although it took me a few lessons to master clutch control because of my leg spasms, and the fact that my left leg is weaker than my right. It also took a lot more effort and adjustment for me to get comfortable while driving because of my various aches. But, by my third lesson, I was driving on main roads, dual carriageways and around town. There was no stopping me now that I’d had a glimpse of independence!
Within nine months I had passed both of my driving tests in a manual car and, from that point, I haven’t looked back! I’ve owned more than 50 cars in the 18 years I’ve been driving, ranging from a 1.1 Rover Metro to a 4.0 BMW V8. I’m a true petrolhead and love everything to do with cars and motorsport.
I think the reason I have always loved driving is because it is my only way of being truly independent and not having to rely on others. I use my car every day to get around – for the school run, hospital appointments, leisure and more. It is adapted with a hoist to lift my powerchair and mobility scooter in, all of which makes me truly independent.
A lot has changed since my childhood. I am now a 36 and very lucky in most ways. I have two beautiful children, a few very close friends and family, and absolutely no negativity. I try not to let my disability get in my way. As far as I am concerned, I am a ‘normal’ guy who just does things differently.
One of the main things I strive to do in life is to show my children that anything is possible, and they know the difficulties I encounter each day. Hopefully, this will mean that they truly understand that there is no substitute for determination and courage.
Over the last couple of years, I have tried different sports to challenge myself. I first attempted walking football – a variation on regular football where you walk instead of run. It’s mostly aimed at people over 50, but I found I struggled to keep up with the 70-year-olds taking part!
I next moved on to powerchair football – football played from your motorised wheelchair. To the naked eye, it looks like a marriage of pinball and bumper cars, but in powered wheelchairs. However, it is much more like ballet dancing, but in powered wheelchairs and with a ball! It is immensely enjoyable and I am now semi-professional. I even play regularly for a team that competes in the South West Premier League. This is a further example of my mentality and how I never concede defeat.
After all of my successes in day-to-day life, I decided it was time to turn my attention back to my dream of becoming a racing driver. So I started a Facebook page in order to help raise awareness. I also began to network with car enthusiasts and track day groups on Facebook.
I eventually found someone who has helped me get started, and from then on, I haven’t looked back.
I’ve now passed the MSA Extended ARDS Test, built relationships/partnerships with a race team/driver coach and sponsors, and more importantly, I have put everything in place to secure sponsorship and a race car build which is nearing completion.
In addition to this, I have recently started the CCR Disabled Racing Driver Academy in association with GMS.
The main aim of the academy is to provide an opportunity for disabled people to experience Motorsport in whatever way they feel comfortable.