Sky-high ambition of man who bounced back after body blow

Steven Robinson has invented a prosthetic arm to enable him to learn to fly.
Steven Robinson has invented a prosthetic arm to enable him to learn to fly.
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Waking up to discover you’ve lost your right arm would be devastating for most people, but for Steven Robinson it was the start of a new life. Julie Marshall reports

STEVEN Robinson hasn’t had an easy life. After a hard childhood when he was badly bullied, he lost his right arm at the age of 18 in a motorbike accident.

But rather than be defeated by what life has thrown at him, Steven has been determined to succeed.

Now aged 50, he has just invented a prosthetic arm that he hopes will help him fulfil his dream of obtaining a pilot’s licence.

Life hasn’t been very fair to Steven up to now. Growing up in a single-parent household in the Leeds slums of Woodhouse in the Sixties – known colloquially as Buggy Park on account of the cockroaches – he was mercilessly bullied.

Although the family moved to Scott Hall Road when he was seven, life didn’t get much better. In fact, it got a whole lot worse when a severe attack of acne made him even more of a target for the bullies and he sank into depression.

Steven began to skip school and, aged just 13, he bought a motorbike from a friend for £10 and spent hours riding around the fields across the road from his house.

This went on for five years until a horrific accident almost cost him his life.

A mid-air collision with another rider left him critically ill with damaged lungs, spleen and liver, a broken leg, and most crucially, a severed arm.

The other rider’s footpeg had ripped off his right arm and it was found 100 metres away, too damaged to reattach.

“April 19, 1982 was the day my life changed for ever, but surprisingly it was a positive thing,” says Steven.

“As I lay in hospital I’d been told I’d lost my arm but I didn’t believe it as I could still ‘feel’ it. It was not until a nurse took me into the bathroom for the first time that I realised the truth.

“But, as I looked in the mirror a wave of euphoria washed over me. The strong antibiotics had cured my acne, I didn’t care about my arm, my spots had gone.

“I walked out of that bathroom a new person. I had gone in as a spotty, ugly, shy, boy and walked out as a strong young man who had already survived against all the odds.”

Now, by his own admission, unemployable, his promised job as a Formula 1 mechanic now out of his reach, Steven threw himself into a period of self-education and took classes in just about everything he could: cooking, baking, Spanish, history, woodwork, metalwork, engineering and computing just some of them.

As a natural problem-solver, and following yet more night-school classes in electronics and amplification, he began buying, repairing and restoring vintage jukeboxes, amassing quite a collection.

With no formal qualifications to his name, he took an access course and was awarded a place at Leeds Metropolitan University to study computing. In his final year he invented an MP3 jukebox which went on to be a commercial success – selling 400 in the first few months alone and leading to the launch of his own company.

But long and protracted litigation against a rival company, which he claims stole his ideas, robbed him of his hard-won wealth and left him a broken man.

Steven says of that time: “Despite winning my case, after the six-year battle I lost everything else: my business, my girlfriend and all my money. And most crucially I lost all my faith in humanity and the judicial system.”

Closer to committing suicide than he had ever been before, he read about an organisation called Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP) and, on a whim, decided to apply.

A few days after attending the selection process he received a phone call that he’s sure saved his life.

“That phone call to say I’d been successful turned my life around and restored my faith,” says Steven.

“All my life people had taken from me and I’d received nothing and here were these important, wealthy people offering me the chance to fly.”

Steven went down to RAF Cramwell in Lincolnshire to begin lessons but once in the air problems arose as his newly-acquired prosthetic arm was not up to the task and fell off each time he tried to operate the joystick.

Undaunted, he decided he would solve the problem himself and make himself a new arm so he could resume lessons.

Twelve months on, it’s still at the prototype stage but a patent has been applied for and he’s confident that within a few months it will be ready to go into production.

He’s not giving too much away at this stage, he’s been caught out too many times before, but he says it has a number of “unique features” that make it stand out from anything else available.

Once it’s finished and Steven’s gained his pilot’s licence his plan is to set off on a grand adventure, perhaps flying around the world.

However, first he has to try to secure additional sponsorship. The FSDP scholarship is only good for 20 hours flying time, but he needs 40 to gain his licence.

But flying isn’t the only challenge this determined man has overcome.

Steven has recently learned to ride, overcoming a lifelong fear of horses and winning a cup in a Riding for the Disabled dressage competition.

He has also decided to use his life experiences to launch a new carer as a motivational speaker, giving others the benefit of his unique take on life and his attitude that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.