Here at Hoops we’re all about helping you to get into sport and fitness. And on our journey we’re meeting some great people, who are working towards the same goals as we are. At GoFest South in May, we connected with Chris Arthey, a man who refused to allow a tragic accident that left both him and his wife without their left legs to stop him from achieving inspirational things with his life. He shared with us his story…
Have you always been a keen sportsman?
When I was a young lad, I played a lot of football, hockey, graduated into squash in my twenties and thirties.
Then when I got to about 35 I wasn’t doing too much and I realised I was getting a little flabby. So I took up swimming, but I was a useless swimmer, so that led me to jogging.
From that I got roped in to competing in the office team – I hadn’t done anything like that since school. I trained for it properly, and I just loved it.
18 months later I’d competed in my first marathon.
I was 41 when I started doing competitive distance running. I ran London in under three hours, and completed the World Marathon Majors – Berlin, Chicago, Boston and New York.
I was training for the Houston marathon and boom, we had our accident…
Can you tell us about the accident?
Nine years ago we had moved to America for a work assignment – our little ones had all gone off to university so it was just the two of us.
I’ve always been a keen motorcyclist, and one of my life ambitions was to ride motorcycle road trips around America.
We took a trip to explore the south Texas coast on a Harley Davidson. And at 2:30pm in the afternoon on a weekday we found a drunk driver doing 80mph down the wrong side of the road.
He veered across and hit us pretty much head on.
I came out of the coma nearly three weeks later with just one leg, and a one-legged wife.
Chris was left in a coma, with a crushed hand and arm, broken ribs and a concussion so severe that doctors feared the long-term ramifications on his mental health. He lost his left leg, and his spleen.
His wife Denise also lost her left leg. Another couple in a truck behind were injured, the husband nearly losing his life.
The driver himself was badly hurt and had to be cut from his car. He received a 10 year probationary sentence, and served just four months in a county jail.
Were you annoyed when you heard about the drivers sentence?
We’re still in touch with him. He was a 58-year-old senior manager in a major oil and gas company.
He was devastated by what he’d done.
After the court case he got in touch and asked if we could ever forgive him, and we thought “well, we don’t like your driving, but we have our lives to get on with, so sure”. And we forgave him.
Before we left America about three and a half years later, we had lunch with him and his wife, and he was still very cut up about it.
When Denise and I talked about it, we searched inside ourselves, and strangely there was no bitterness. There was just nothing there. It wasn’t something we had to conjure up, it was just gone.
And I think that helped us a lot, because if we hadn’t been able to do that, recovering and getting back to our lives would have been that much more difficult.
How long did it take you to start thinking about running again?
While I was in a coma, there was some debate as to whether they should amputate my leg, because there was a pulse there.
But it started to go bad, and when the doctors consulted whether they should amputate, for a clean start, Denise said that if they removed the leg, I would still run a marathon again.
She made that decision before I even woke up.
It took about four months to be fitted with our prosthetic legs and then we had to learn to walk again. It was a bit like ageing 20 years overnight.
I can’t play squash anymore, and it’s not a good idea for me to try and fix things up ladders!
But most of the things that we want to do, if we give ourselves enough time then we can do them.
“Whether I’m training or racing, I’m not thinking about being an amputee. It’s just the person I’m trying to catch up with.”
How hard is it to learn to run again with your prosthetic?
I thought that it was going to be really tough learning to run with the prosthetic, but fortunately I picked it up quite quickly.
The tough thing to get used to is having confidence that the prosthetic will be there when you swing your leg through.
You take off on your sound side and land on your prosthetic side, and it has to be there, otherwise you will fall.
But at first I was really unfit after my illness – I could only manage about 25 yards before I was puffed.
It took me about a year of training two or three times a week to be able to run 5km without stopping.
But now, whether I’m training or racing, I’m not thinking about being an amputee. It’s just the person I’m trying to catch up with.
Since the accident, Chris has refused to allow it from preventing him from doing what he loves.
He has ran two marathons, both completed in under five hours, alongside regular endurance events.
But that’s not where it ends. He has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He has returned to university to take a Masters in Biomedical Engineering.
And, alongside Denise, he has found “immense fulfilment” in motivational speaking, with the pair frequenting schools to explain prosthetics to children.
Is enough done to raise awareness around para-athletics and para-sport?
There’s always more that you can do.
I think awareness in the UK is particularly good. I think the 2012 Paralympics in London made a difference – it was surprising how popular they were.
We’ve spoken in schools and youngsters are very aware of prosthetic limbs, and Paralympic sports. So coming back to the UK was very encouraging.
But para-athletes almost by definition are not that common. There’s always more that could be done.
But awareness is coming. And the charities that are out there do some amazing work.
Do you have any advice for readers who may be unsure about taking up sport due to a disability?
A couple of things really.
First of all, find something that you enjoy – if you don’t enjoy running, then trying to get fit to run a marathon is purgatory!
So really focus on finding something you enjoy and take some pleasure from.
If you can, find someone with a similar disability who is already doing your chosen sport. Let them inspire you and help you to overcome the inevitable difficulties.
My other piece of advice would be that you have to have a future, worthy goals and objectives, otherwise it will always be hard work.
If you’ve got things to enthuse you and encourage you then you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.
In July, we were delighted to announce Chris as one of our Hoops Heroes, and donated his prize money to Leonard Cheshire Disability. Find out more about that initiative here.
Hoops is now available in app stores, so you can use us to find opportunities for any sport or fitness activity you can think of. Simply click here to download the app for Android, and here for iOS – or search for Hoops Connect.
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