Support through Sport UK spoke to Anthony Wright about how he used sport to come back from the brink ...
Hi Anthony. It's fair to say that things were a lot different for you a decade ago, isn't it? Can you tell us what happened?
A series of emergency operations for a brain tumour left me comatose and subsequently unable to walk. I died once on the operating table and was nearly blinded. In just eight weeks, I lost a third of my body weight. I lost my hearing, balance and facial nerves to surgery, which left me permanently disabled. I also had minor brain damage, which left me confused and dyslexic, with short-term memory issues.
So when you came out of hospital, what sort of physical state were you in; what could you do?
I was very weak and I was the same weight as I had been when I was 12. My balance was completely shot and I was walking around as if permanently drunk. I no longer had a functioning balance nerve and so I didn't think that I would ever be able to balance again - however I now balance by sight (I use a visual reference), which is particularly pleasing as many people in my condition need a walker or wheelchair to get around.
Prior to your operations, had sport and exercise been an important part of your life?
As a teenager, I played hockey for my hometown. I then took up weights and running. I got into golf during an extended stay in Scotland and, in many ways, being able to play golf again was one of my motivations to get better.
How did your first foray back into golf go?
I played pitch and putt. I managed just four holes. I walked barely 600 yards and was completely exhausted. I had to sleep for about three hours afterwards to recover.
How important was sport and exercise to your rehabilitation?
It was clear that balance (or the lack of it) was the real problem and so I reasoned that any sport that exercised my balance would help me. I also needed an exercise programme that would allow me to work at my own pace, and within large, soft, open spaces, just in case I fell over (which I did, frequently).
I started off with golf. I worked up from the aforementioned four holes to five and then six. In the first year post my ops, I did 1,000 hours of physical exercise. By the end of it, I could complete the full course. A year later, I could complete two or three circuits. It was at this point that I added weight training and running to my programme.
What are your current sports of choice?
I still play golf and my scores now are often better than they were before all of my operations. If you have a hobby that you truly enjoy, you will find the motivation to get out there and get well.
What advice do you have for anyone who is currently facing similar adversity?
Recovery is a journey of 1,000 steps. You have to think 'body and mind'. To help the body, you must help the mind; to help the mind, you must help the body. Exercise is crucial here, but it doesn’t matter what exercise you do. Just a simple walk in the fresh air is infinitely preferable to staying at home. I always suggest that people choose exercise that they truly want to do. Then, if it’s cold or raining, they'll still have the motivation to get out there and do it.
You talk more about your journey in your book, don't you? Tell us more ...
My journey truly was a journey of 1,000 steps. It was roughly two years before I could walk properly and a further two before I could run. The head injuries took another five years to correct (the dyslexia, fatigue and memory loss) and all of this was going on whilst I had reconstructive surgery to my face (six operations). It might seem like a long time but, for my mental and physical agility to be back within 10 years, is actually a real achievement (many people thought it could never happen). I talk more about my journey in my book.