From wheelchair to glory in wake of horror crash

A DECADE ago, as he lay in a hospital bed following a horrendous car crash, Steve Judge looked down at his badly injured legs and made himself a promise.

Doctors told him then that he would never walk again because his legs were so badly crushed, and he was forced to endure several operations after losing four inches of bone.

But during all the procedures Mr Judge, now 39, was focusing on the future, and his determination has paid dividends after he lifted an international sporting title.

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The father-of two, from Eckington, near Sheffield, was rushed to the city’s Northern General Hospital after the crash in 2002, and medics told him to expect a lifetime in a wheelchair.

For 18 months he was forced to wear a metal cage around his right leg, which had bolts inserted in it. His left leg was also severely damaged after the accident severed a number of nerves.

But earlier this month, Mr Judge beat more than 100 elite athletes from 21 countries across the world to take the world paratriathlon title in Auckland, New Zealand.

He said that in the months and years following the accident he worked hard to regain his strength despite suffering from the long-term effects of his terrible injuries.

Mr Judge who lives with wife Ruth, four-year-old daughter Susie and son Robert, seven, said: “When I woke up from my accident to see my legs crushed, I was told I may never walk again.

“I immediately went into a fight or flight mode. I wanted to prove people wrong so started setting goals – just starting off with eating, drinking and getting up on my own.

“The eventual aim was getting back to my own sense of normality.”

Mr Judge, who still suffers from restricted movement in his left leg, first heard about paratriathlons at Rother Valley Country Park.

After discovering he was eligible to take part, he set himself the challenge of completing one in 2009 and stepped up his fitness regime to include swimming, cycling and a small amount of running.

He achieved that goal, before taking part in the British Paratriathlon Championships in 2009 where he won gold in his category. He then went on to win gold at the European championships in 2011.

To help him achieve the required fitness, Mr Judge began training at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge International Sports Centre where he worked with experts to build up his strength and stamina.

He trains closely with swimming coach Richard Harland, who, through the centre’s Swimfit scheme, helped him tailor his approach to swimming and be more efficient in training by taking his disability into account.

Mr Judge, who also works full-time as a health and safety co-ordinator, said: “The whole team at Ponds Forge have played a pivotal role and they’ve been fantastic in helping to tailor my approach to exercise to help the ongoing problems I suffer from.”

He said that as well as swimming, he attends gym sessions and spinning classes, and added: “Pilates and yoga are also particularly good because they build up my core strength, which helps with balance and stability – something that is vital for efficient running.”

Mr Judge is now also a member of the 2012 British Triathlon Paratriathlon Performance Programme and part of the Sheffield Triathlon Club and local running club Killamarsh Kestrels.

His ambition now is centred on the road to Rio 2016 when he hopes to be a part of Team GB, after it was announced that the paratriathlon will form part of the Paralympics for the first time.

He added: “Before my accident I could never have imagined having this level of success. Hopefully Rio will be on the horizon for me, but I want to just take it a year at a time and build on what I’ve already achieved.

“I am a strong believer in making the most of any situation that life throws at you, which is exactly what I am doing now.”