From semi-pro motorcycle racer to brain injury survivor
Posted by: Alan Armour
I’ve always loved motorcycles. I started riding at the age of 14 and spent 15 odd years competing as a semi–professional motorcycle racer (with walls of trophies and press cuttings to show for it). I even spent a few years as in instructor at Cadwell Park Circuit, working with British superbike stars. Riding was a way of life for me; it was my main hobby and favourite way to socialise. That all changed when I was involved in an accident which left me in a coma for six weeks.
The day of my accident, in May 2013, I’d just bought a new motorcycle from a place in Manchester – a Yamaha RD400, 1976 classic (I fancied a retro model rather than a race bike). I decided to take it for its first ride to show my friend who lives nearby, in my hometown of Cleethorpes. I can’t tell you how my accident happened or what happened, because I don’t know. All I remember is waking up from a coma, six weeks later.
“The doctors told me that it saved my life”
I’d suffered a broken neck and collar bone, fractured eye socket, a fractured skull and a brain injury. I was extremely lucky I was wearing a helmet that day – the doctors told me that it saved my life. I remember waking up, looking around and thinking “where the f**k am I?!” I saw a wheelchair at the bottom of my bed which added to the confusion, so the first thing I did was try to get out of bed. My brain injury had caused partial paralysis down the left side of my body, so of course, this didn’t go well and I just collapsed in a heap on the floor. I was unable to move so just laid there until the nurse came in and found me.
After spending a month and a half in intensive care in Hull, I was transferred to the brain injury unit in Goole for four months for support and rehabilitation. The paralysis down the left side of my body also meant that my left eye was unable to blink. The doctor told me that my eyeball would have to be removed if I didn’t start blinking again because it meant my eye was prone to infection – which was really frightening. I thought “I’m not having that!” and took it upon myself to force myself to blink, until my brain caught up and I started blinking naturally again.
I started coming home for weekend visits before moving home full time. When I first came home I was withdrawn and quiet. I was just so confused and had trouble understanding how this had actually all happened to me. Unfortunately things were to get worse before they got better as, to my complete surprise, my wife left me 3 weeks after I moved home. With everything I was going through, this had a huge emotional impact! I struggled with confusion and lack at motivation in the weeks that followed which led to depression. I’d just find myself crying and unable to stop. However, I was lucky enough to have support from my four kids, sister and brother-in-law. Without them, I feel I may have slumped deeper.
“If I could give advice to anyone who has recently suffered a brain injury it would be…”
My brother-in-law was fantastic and would pick me up every morning and take me to the gym for some light exercise or for a walk along the sea front for some fresh air (we’re lucky enough to live by the seaside). If I could give advice to anyone who has recently suffered a brain injury it would be don’t turn anybody away, take the support, and also stay active. I think it’s so important move and stretch, go for walks or do some gentle exercise with someone’s support, if you can.
I recently learnt that exercise releases endorphins (the chemical in your brain which triggers a positive feeling in your body) and a lot of health experts advise that exercise can help treat depression. I was told by someone who came to see me from Headway (who was also a fantastic support by the way!), that depression and struggling psychologically is really common side effect of brain injury. It can affect your mood, temper and stress levels so it’s really important to take care of your mental health, and I think exercise is one of the easiest ways to do it. From my experience, I truly believe it sped up my recovery.
The feeling in my left hand side began to come back after months of physical rehab, and I began to get my life back on track. I do live with some side effects of my brain injury: my memory is quite poor, especially short term, initially I couldn’t remember the three months leading up to my accident! And I struggle with my energy levels and balance and coordination. Luckily, my accident and injuries didn’t affect my job as a partner in a fish merchant in Grimsby, although I do find that I get mentally tired quicker now, which can have an effect on my concentration. It was 18 months before I was able to go back to work, and I thank myself lucky that I’d decided to keep my insurance running from my motorcycle racing days. My no claims bonus had been building up for years and I was completely covered for my injuries. My pay-out was a huge financial support and it relived a lot of pressure and stress during my recovery.
“I have crashed at 130mph numerous times and just got up and carried on. This was 30mph and almost killed me.”
I haven’t been back on a motorcycle since my accident and for a long time I didn’t want to. Now, I think I would like to try getting on a bike again, but only in an enclosed area like a dirt track. I’m definitely not interested in racing again. At the moment I don’t have the confidence to get back to a bike; it would take a lot for me to psychologically overcome what I went through. I also want to work on my balance and coordination first, which I’ve been doing by riding a push bike, which I find helps.
I was 51 at the time of my accident and had been riding for 38 years, so it’s safe to say giving up riding has been a real lifestyle change! But I now teach my son to ride and live my passion for bikes through him. What I find crazy is, I have crashed at 130mph numerous times and just got up and carried on. This was 30mph and almost killed me. I feel really lucky to have been wearing a motorcycle helmet that day, without it I don’t know if I’d still be here.