Twenty-five years ago ‘Rocket Ron’ Ottaway took challenges in his stride. He thought nothing of jumping in a canoe and paddling 100-miles from Devises to Westminster, or indeed across the English Channel, or racing in icy cold rivers as a fierce competitor in tougher-than-tough ‘Grizzlies’ competitions.
Ron took part in triathlons for fun, moving on from what he would call ‘small’ events (1 mile swim, 2.5miles bike and 10K run) to larger events where winning mattered. He would regularly clock-up cycle speeds of 53.4 miles per hour, hence the fuel-powered nickname.
“Triathlons were fairly new back them and I loved them. I did them for about 15 years as well as any crazy event that came my way.”
However, Ron admits that he’s never been a natural athlete: “I’ve had to work for it, he says most definitely, but with friends from the Bracknell Forest Runners and Maidenhead Cycling Club to support him he committed himself to regular training and competitions.
Setting challenges and coping with extreme conditions were second nature to the Royal Engineers’ officer. He later went on to do Tough Guy events that saw him racing across the Black Country, jumping into concrete pits and crawling under barbed wire lined with burning bales of hay. “I must have been mad!” he reminisces.
At aged 59, however, all this activity started to take its toll on Ron. A nagging knee pain – in both legs – saw Ron go to the GP only to be told that the cartilages had completely gone.
“I had a bilateral knee replacement (they said I was young enough to cope with a double one) but I had a bad reaction to the general anesthetic and was near death twice. In one year I had eight major operations and three different replacements in the same knee. It was awful.”
With each cut of the knife, the left leg, in particular, suffered from an infection that came back stronger and stronger. Ron was referred to a specialist surgeon in Oxford who fitted a new type of knee (very expensive) that worked but meant that Ron was in constant pain and discomfort for six years.
Then one, ordinary day Ron knew that something out of the ordinary was going on.
“Every day I went to a cafe to meet friends and have breakfast. This particular day I sensed that something was going on: I got stuck in the car and couldn’t get out and called for an ambulance. I went to Wexham Hospital for tests and they showed that the infection was spreading. It was time to remove the knee.”
At this point Ron was in so much pain: “I begged them to cut the leg off,” he admits. And so, in December 2015 Ron underwent surgery to have an above the knee amputation on his left leg.
Recovery was initially difficult as during the years of living with difficult and painful knee replacements Ron found movement hard and put on six stone. Having the amputation sent Ron into a further misery of being isolated and immobile. “I was just vegetating indoors, not wanting to go out,” a common state of mind that a lot of people with an acquired disability find themselves in.
“During my last time in hospital I was losing all hope of living a worthwhile life until I was in the gym one day with the therapist who had arranged a demonstration with SportsAble to show us wheelchair basketball. That was the change in my life.”
Ron gave himself an ultimatum: “The therapists wanted me to be more active and independent and so I thought: I can give up and wait for God or I can adapt and move on.” And moving on is what he did.
Since that first introduction to disability sports with SportsAble Ron hasn’t stopped. He does Swimming, Wheelchair Basketball, Air Rifle and Archery, and he’s a regular fundraiser, too. Due to the multiple sessions offered to members throughout the week Ron is able to build-up a busy sports schedule around other commitments.
“I just jumped in at the deep end and joined SportsAble and I’m so glad that I did, as there’s so much to do. Typically, the above knee amputation has a longer recovery time but I was signed off of physiotherapy after nine months. I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair permanently so keeping active with SportsAble is helping me.
“What I like is the help and support you receive from SportsAble’s instructors and volunteers – no matter what your disability is. You can make countless friends and it gives you a sense of purpose to your life. I like SportsAble and what I am able to achieve here.
“For me, this club has been a lifeline and I recommend it to anybody.”
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