On October 12 2019, Matt Walker will take on the second biggest challenge of his life.
The first was to absorb the earth-shattering news that on August 6th last year, it was unlikely he would ever regain the use of his legs after an accident at work had devastatingly broken his spine in several places and left him completely paralysed from the waist down.
As a proud and ultra-fit 38-year-old man who had already supported his fiancé Amelia through a decade of aggressive recurring cancer (also on his incredible list of life challenges), it seemed that in 2018 things were finally taking a positive turn as Matt set up his own gardening and lawn care company, Amelia was in remission and the couple had just renovated their home.
Then in August while working in a client’s garden and descending from a ladder on a hedge trimming job, electricity arced from an above cable and connected with Matt’s machine which electrocuted him. Knowing he had to get away from the ladder he was standing on to stop the electrocution, he consciously fell away from it, hitting the ground like a stone, breaking his spine in several places. After being rushed to John Radcliffe’s spinal unit where the expert team completed emergency surgery on his spine, the doctors could find no magic solution to get him to his feet again, though naturally he was grateful to be alive.
After the accident, Matt spent three months at the National Spinal Injury Centre, Stoke Mandeville in intense rehabilitation where the incredible teams helped him learn how to make the most of his upper body strength to negotiate a new life from a wheelchair. Despite such an incredible mountain to climb both physically and mentally, Matt has been determined to try and combat the grief he feels over the loss of the use of his legs and get on with life and overcome his new limitations. Amongst other things, he has started playing wheelchair rugby with the Berkshire Banshees and where he can, provides support and guidance for others who have suffered life-changing spinal injuries like him.
Just one year on from his accident, that next goal has already been set. The idea, which came from family friend Paul Quigley will see Matt swim alongside Paul, his friends and a group of experienced swimmers in the Gaelforce Great Fjord Swim in October. The fundraising challenge is a 750-metre open water swim which he and the team will complete to raise money to supply Virtual Reality equipment for spinal injury patients in rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Any additional funds will assist Matt with mobility equipment as well as helping to provide much desired access to his own garden at home.
As family and friends of Matt, we have watched in awe as this talented, kind and motivated man had the life he and Amelia thought they were finally heading towards taken away from them once again. Together they are a force and we are filled with love and admiration for the challenges that together, they have faced with dignity, courage and determination.
Please be a part of our team that helps raise the funds that will help Matt dig deep and find the strength and the energy in freezing waters in October to push across that finish line.
**SPECIAL THANKS** to Mercedes Bagnall and Stephen Tighe (seasoned English Channel swimmers) who will be accompanying Matt, Paul and the team. Also Matt's Mum, Eileen Ni Chearbhaill and friends Brendan Walsh and Jessica Blount who are training hard and joining in with the swim. Thanks also to Victoria Madden who has helped us tell Matt's story.