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A Lucky Escape

20 years ago this year I hit the jackpot.

Possessed by ego, idiocy, and strong lager, I made a weak decision and dived into shallow water. The resulting damage to my upper spine became apparent a few hours later in Addenbrookes hospital. My parents were summoned and advised to expect the worst.

A triple fracture to my C3 vertebra seriously threatened all mobility - upon a subsequent hospital checkup, I was told that quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down) was a near certain outcome for such an injury. Such was the immediate concern, the crack in my skull went unnoticed for a number of days.

Yet, I emerged unscathed. Weeks later I resumed activity and was cleared for all physical activity. I'd been bed bound for the entire of France '98, facilitating the opportunity to watch every minute of every game (save for 30 minutes when Tim Henman took precedence on the BBC schedule).

Why write about this now? Well, acknowledging this anniversary and my good fortune aside, this event had an important influence on my subsequent life and ethos.

The motto carpe diem, or 'seize the day', is not uncommon. For me, I will never miss the opportunity to celebrate my physical freedom. You never know when Lady Luck will look the other way and your world will change. I am passionate about running, cycling, and duathlon, not to score victory (that rarely happens anyway), nor to achieve better results (a bit more frequent), but because I can.

Even now I'm probably no less cavalier, and I have maintained a robust relationship with risk. But as a husband and father, I have a duty to pay more attention to the fates; as such, I endeavour to temper my exposure to potential misfortune and own my responsibilities.

Specifically as a dad, I also retrospect in a new light. Only now do I understand the depth of concern a parent is obliged to feel. I'm sorry to have turned this worry to reality on an otherwise pleasant Sunday in 1998. Rest assured I will carry a sense of apprehension each and every time my own children leave my side. Nonetheless I must somehow find the strength of mind to encourage them to enjoy their freedom and explore the boundaries of life.

They say that poker isn't about the hand you have, but how you play that hand. Occasionally, though, you are dealt pocket aces and it is up to you to run the table.

I did think about entering a specific event to raise money for a spinal injury charity, but it seems odd to define something I might do anyway as a challenge. Then I thought about a sponsored period of rest, but realised this was way beyond me! I should in fact find a more practical way to support those folks whose circumstances have landed butter-side-down.