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Running the long road to recovery

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Paul Hudson was a keen sportsman - an amateur motocross competitor who competed for Great Britain and also a keen and talented rugby player. Forced to focus his energy, Paul made the decision to concentrate on his rugby. Paul played at the top of the League, and was chosen to go on a tour of Australia with Ebbw Vale. He was later picked to play in the Rugby World Cup 7s for the Wales select 7. Then his rugby career took a serious blow. Paul was injured at C2/C3 and left paralysed following an accident during a rugby game in 2006. He was told by Doctors that he may never walk again. However, functions began to restore and together with immense willpower and intense rehabilitation he has made a good recovery.

This year Paul is running the London Marathon and the World Run for Wings for Life. We spoke to Paul about his experiences, his motivation for supporting us and his hopes for the future.

Can you tell us about how you sustained your spinal cord injury?
I was playing rugby and went in for a tackle. I was lifted in the air and fell, upside down, head first into the ground. The fall pushed my vertebra and disc forward which hit my spinal cord.

What was your first thought after the accident?
I didn’t feel any pain at first but I knew I’d hurt myself. I felt calm for some reason. Luckily there was a paramedic at the game who came straight over to me. When the fall happened I’d had the ball in my hands, and so in my mind I had my arms out, holding it. I asked my friend to help put my arms down, but he said to me, “Paul, they’re on the floor.” That’s when I knew that I’d damaged my spinal cord and I wondered if I’d ever walk again.

How did you feel during the early stages of your recovery?
There were some really difficult times when I was in hospital, and I still have them. I spent two weeks there, and was told that I needed an operation and that I had to wait until the spinal shock wore off so that they could assess the injury properly. The worst day was after the operation when I had swelling around my neck. I tried to fall asleep but I felt like my throat was closing and I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to get my body to respond to something and so I tried a few small steps. I shuffled along and started to get some sensation back. I fell but I kept on. My confidence started to build and I kept on practicing.

Following your operation and 12 months of rehabilitation, you were able to walk again. Could you tell us if you suffer any side effects as a consequence of your injury?
I have struggled sleeping since my accident. I only have about two or three hours per night as after that my legs and arms go numb and I wake up, and there’s always pins and needles. It’s taken me a while to get used to that. With spinal cord injury, it doesn’t matter how big, strong and determined you are, your injury is ultimately out of your control. Given my career and interests in fitness it took me a while to come to terms with that.

Sport has played an integral part in your life. Can you tell us about what inspired you to go back into fitness after you sustained your injury?
Once you stop training, your body starts to lose its strength. I wanted to keep my strength up and I wanted to use what I knew about training and developing the body to help make me better and stronger. I remember watching the rugby, and when Wales scored I felt angry that I may never be able to be in a team like that again. So I’ve challenged myself to still take part in sports and last year I did a 24 hour spin for Wings for Life.

What made you decide to do the London Marathon and the Wings for Life World Run?
I have always watched the London Marathon and loved it. It’s something I have always wanted to do.  I want to do this and the Wings for Life World Run, for those who have been injured and can’t run. It won’t be easy though, I know that. I’ve had to teach myself to do everything again, like cutting my food and eating. I couldn’t catch a ball or jump after my injury, but I’ve practiced a huge amount and now I can.

What were the main things that helped you come to terms with your injury?
I’ve had to face the facts and just get on with it. When I’m training and I’ve had a bad day I accept that and think, I’ll come back when I’m having a good day.

Which are the biggest barriers in your everyday life?
I am a personal trainer and I was off work for 12 months. The Consultant told me that I would need to retrain and do something different, but I have worked hard and I’m working again which means the world to me.   Barriers have been everyday things. I have had problems getting up and being able to walk. Eating was difficult for a while too. However I feel like there are only barriers if you let them get in the way. Try and go around it, over it, through it, whatever possible to stop barriers getting in the way.

What are your dreams for the future?
The injury is there every day, but you get times when it would be nice to have an hour or so where you can just be your old self again. I would also like for there to be an improvement in people’s understanding of spinal cord injury and what those with a spinal cord injury go through.   

What do you like about Wings for Life?
Supporting Wings for Life has given me a focus and the ability to get out, do something different, and help others. It’s been great being with Wings for Life. After the London Marathon and the Wings for Life World Run, we’ll see what’s next!  Personally I know I’m very, very lucky to be as I am and that my injury could have been a lot worse. It’s nice to do something for those who have not been so lucky.

We wish Paul the best of luck at the London Marathon and the Wings for Life World Run and would like to thank him for his support and fundraising. Support him here.