FOUR years ago Ed Jackson was told he was unlikely to walk again after a freak diving accident left him paralysed, apart from limited movement in his right arm.
He was what doctors call a ‘incomplete quadriplegic’, but despite this devastating prognosis, the former Doncaster and Wasps rugby union player is not only walking again but climbing mountains and is currently in Tokyo getting ready to commentate on the Paralympics for Channel 4.
Jackson is dedicated to assisting others to realise they can achieve, no matter how impossible it may seem.
His debut book, Lucky, was published last month. Part autobiography and part personal development, his inspirational tale is a story of triumph over adversity.
“This isn’t just a book for people who have undergone a life-changing injury like me, but for anyone who for whatever reason has lost belief in themselves and needs the tools to get back on track,” he says.
Jackson suffered the devastating injuries after accidentally diving in to the shallow end of a swimming pool in 2017.
He dislocated two vertebrae and a disc exploded slicing through the left hand side of his spinal cord.
“I was conscious throughout which was terrifying as I remember it all,” recalls Jackson. “ I knew I’d hit my head really hard on the bottom and thought I’ll just come up to the top and see if I’m bleeding.”
But when he tried to stand up he realised there was something very seriously wrong.
“I couldn’t move and then the panic started to set as I thought I might drown.”
Luckily his father had seen what had happened and was able to pull him to the surface and get him to hospital although he needed to be resuscitated three times on the way.
He underwent seven hours of surgery and then lay in ICU with only some limited movement in his right arm contemplating not only the end of his professional rugby career but the likelihood he may never walk again.
“I realised I had a choice. I wasn’t suddenly going to get better, if my condition was going to improve it was down to me.
“I had to focus on very small goals but so long as I could see improvements, no matter how small, it was enough to keep me going. I was in a mental battle just as much as a physical one. Recovery was going to be down to remaining positive and not giving in, rather than any miracle cure.” Jackson’s positive attitude helped him go from strength to strength in the months after his accident. Flickers of movement in his big toe in the first weeks were emotional flashes of optimism and reward for his hope and perseverance.
Recovery was now a firm possibility and using his arms in order to power a wheelchair became a priority.
“What I wanted least of all was to be a burden to anyone,” he says. “My independence was vital to me.”
As he continued to improve, his goals became greater. He was being driven on by the ultimate motivation – the ability to walk – and beyond that, walk a mile.
He had spent much of his former life as a professional rugby player recovering from injuries, albeit minor in comparison.
But these had given him an understanding of the mental and physical process required to return to fitness. By applying an elite level of focus and work rate to his recovery he managed to achieve astonishing function so soon after an injury of his severity.
Nine months after his injury and after taking just a few steps without crutches, Jackson decided to work towards what to many was an impossible goal.
“I told my physio Pete that to mark the one-year anniversary of my accident I was going to climb a mountain,” he says. “Bearing in mind I couldn’t walk more than a few steps at the time it seemed a mammoth task. The idea was met with a laugh and then a concerned look when Pete realised I was being serious. But I needed to keep myself motivated to help my own recovery.
“I also wanted to motivate others – to send a message to people in a similar situation to me.”
All the effort and planning culminated in Jackson reaching the summit of Snowdon, on Easter Sunday 2018 in aid of the rugby charity Restart which had supported him over the course of the year.
But just as importantly, by doing so he succeeded in inspiring all those who are delivered worse-case scenarios every year to prove they aren’t unchangeable.
“I remember standing on the summit like it was yesterday. It had taken five hours to get to that point and despite playing over a decade of professional rugby it was by far the most physically demanding thing I’d ever done.”
From then on climbing mountains (including the Alps and the Himalayas), inspiring others and paying back the charities that had helped him became his main focus.
With his wife Lois and former England rugby international Olly Barkley, he founded Millimetres to Mountains. Their mission is to create positive change for people to overcome mental health challenges through exploration and adventure. And he’s not done yet. Having teamed up with Berghaus, Jackson is set to climb Mont Blanc alongside world-class climber Leo Houlding shortly after he returns from Tokyo. If successful, Ed will be the first ‘incomplete quadriplegic’ to do so. He also has ambitions to scale Mount Everest.
His latest challenge is commentating on the Paralympics in Tokyo, having joined Channel 4 presenting the European Champions Cup rugby highlights and recently commentating on the Six Nations.
“Tokyo will be a challenge,” says Jackson who is far from fully recovered.
The left side of his body functions poorly in terms of movement but has normal sensation, while the right side of his body functions well in terms of movement but has almost no sensation. He has to wear a splint on his leg as he suffers a dropped foot and normally has to walk with sticks
“I can’t feel temperature, feel pain, which causes its own issues. I don’t sweat from below the nipples so I have overheating issues.
“I have bladder and bowel problems, sexual function issues, blood pressure problems, on average I wake up between 10 to 12 times during the night so I’m sleep deprived and my left hand doesn’t really work either. So I have a lot too deal with, but I am thankful and feel lucky to even be here and I am determined to make the most of everyday.
“I love the adrenalin of live television and working as part of a team – that was one of the hardest parts of not being able to play rugby any more, although I have had massive support from the rugby community.”
Channel 4’s main Paralympics programming is coming live from Leeds from August 25.
The Steph’s Packed Lunch studio has been repurposed for the games –Steph McGovern and Arthur Williams are hosting Paralympics Breakfast everyday throughout the games, when they’ll have a studio audience and lots of guests to look back at the action from overnight.
More than 1,300 hours will be broadcast – 300 on TV and 1,000 on Channel 4’s digital platform.
It is the first time the majority of the Paralympic presenting team are disabled.
Lucky by Ed Jackson, published in hardback by HQ, HarperCollins, is out now. Millimetres to Mountains website: www.millimetres2mountains.org