newspic

Jimmy Gittins 10th anniversary

2012 marked 10 years since Jimmy Gittins life was changed forever. In 2002 whist playing Rugby League for Sharlston ARLFC, Jimmy, a former Dewsbury and Wakefield professional, broke his neck in two places, rendering him paralysed from the chest down.


What followed is a truly remarkable story of how his sheer determination and resilience saw him get back onto his feet, and led to him embarking on a number of fundraising and awareness activities in aid of the Try Assist Benevolent Fund.


The initial prognosis was that Jimmy would never walk again and he would lose his independence. But, after spending months in Pindifields spinal unit Hospital, undergoing intense physiotherapy, he regained partial movement in his arms and legs.  Jimmy left hospital still affected by paralysis in all four limbs, but was able to walk, with the aid of crutches, out of the doors he arrived in immobilised on a stretcher, a year earlier.


A slow process followed as he adapted to his new way of living, whilst continuing with his rehabilitation. Jimmy first came into contact with the Try Assist Benevolent Fund when it was formed in 2005.


They helped with funds to go towards a gym that he part owned that he eventually turned into a rehabilitation and fitness centre. In the years that past since, Jimmy has given back to the Fund by pushing himself to the extreme, whilst defying those early doctors’ opinions.


A parachute jump from 15.000 feet, travelling the length of France on a Quad bike, an indoor marathon on a rowing machine and Dragon-boating 27 miles up the river Thames, are just a few of the events Jimmy has taken part in, raising  thousands of pounds in the process.


Undeterred by not letting the disabilities he still has affect him, Jimmy’s exploits are an example of what can be achieved by making the most of what you have got and he has inspired many people along the way.  As the 10th year anniversary post injury crept up on him, Jimmy wanted to mark it by taking on not one, but two gruelling challenges.


He said: “I had never really kept track of times and dates since the accident, but when I noticed that it would be 10 years this year, it triggered something in me.


I guess it was a time for reflection and I wanted to do something special that would symbolize how far I have come. I have done challenges before, but nothing could have prepared me for how hard the 48 hour Quadrathon would be.”


The 48 hour Quadrathon was idea of Steve Prescott, who is battling a rare form of stomach Cancer. Prescott has completed a number of epic challenges over recent years since being diagnosed with his illness in aid of Christies and Try Assist.


Jimmy has been involved in his previous events and wanted to be part of the latest and arguably hardest one yet. The relentless 48 hour challenge involved two, one mile open water swims, cycling the width of the country, a half marathon and Canoeing 26 miles. The aim was for Prescott and the 22 other participants’ to deliver the Grand Final match ball in time for kick off.


“Obviously there were aspects of the challenge that I had to adapt to suit me. My hands, arms, legs and core stability are still affected as a result of my spinal cord injury. I was able to do the swims lying flat on a surf board and paddling using just my hands. Were the other participants’ cycled; I independently rode my quad bike.


The Canoeing I was able to do like everyone else and where they ran, I hand-cycled. It was the most unforgiving challenge I have ever taken part in, mainly because of the time frame everything was squeezed into. Since the injury, I tire quickly and the nature of this event meant I couldn’t recover that tiredness because it was almost nonstop.


“We initially wanted to swim the across the River Humber but the weather in the week running up to the challenge prevented us from doing so. We did the open mile swim in a lake near Hull and when we first got there it was a pleasant, sunny evening, no one could have foreseen what would lie ahead of us.


“It took just over an hour for me to complete and when I got out of the water, the sun was setting and you could now start to feel the cold. We set off from Hull at 7pm on our bikes and travelled through the night to our destination of Liverpool, which we had planned to arrive at 4am the next day.  


The first 40 or so miles to Wakefield were steady away, but then the elements turned on us. As we approached Saddleworth Moors, torrential rain and wind greeted us and the next four hours was horrendous. The higher we got, the more exposed we was and the rain felt like pellets being shot at you, it was so dark I wondered whether we would be able to get through it in one piece. How we got through that night I’ll never know, it almost ended a lot people’s challenge.”


Jimmy and the group eventually arrived in Liverpool at 7am and after a just a couple of hours sleep they were back on the road again. They had planned to swim across the River Mersey, but again the weather had other ideas and only seven of the group were allowed to do so. Tiered, wet, cold and demoralised the rest of the group still managed a one mile open water swim in the nearby docks.


“It was disappointing that we couldn’t all do the Mersey but it was the right decision to ensure the safety of the participants’. By this time I was on autopilot, the lack of sleep meant by body had no time to recover from the hellish night before. We did the swim and then the others did the run that followed. That night was the first time we could relax for a few hours and reflect on what we had just done. Spirits were at their highest because we were on the home leg now.


“The following morning was another early start as we prepared to set off from Runcorn Bridge at 6am, to Canoe 26 miles, up the Bridge water Canal. I had done Dragon Boating before but being in a two man Canoe was a totally different ball game. Keeping the boat in a straight line was hard enough and then my back rest snapped on me. My lower lumber area is one of my weak spots that I struggle with and after carrying on for a few miles without the support, I had to stop because I would have done myself more harm. I wanted to carry on and ended up in Paul Sculthorpe and Steve Prescott’s Canoe in the middle of them both, this way I could complete the challenge. When you have a spinal cord injury and you are doing these sorts of things, you try to prepare yourself the best you can for any eventualities.

 

But a lot of the time you are heading into the unknown and you don’t know what you’re going to be up against until you are actually in the middle of doing it and how your body is going to react. It was difficult, but then that’s why we do these challenges, everyone pulled together that day and worked as a team to see us through to the end. It took about nine hours in total and by the time we had reached Old Trafford everyone was exhausted, but elated at the same time. Personally I felt proud to have completed it, given the obstacles we had to overcome.”


The completion of this event was a great achievement but it was made more remarkable given that four weeks prior to the challenge, Jimmy, took part in the Great North Run. Jimmy was to cover the 13.1 mile distance on a hand tricycle alongside former St Helens and Great Britain star Paul Sculthorpe. The pair completed the world’s biggest half marathon, which started in Newcastle and ended in South Shields, in just over two hours alongside the other 52.000 competitors. It was another huge test and one that again was a case of heading into the unknown as Jimmy explained:


“I had been out on the hand tricycle quite a bit in the run up to the event but hadn’t come close to the overall distance that had to be covered. Being in a race environment with all those people was quite scary and although everyone is there to raise money for their respective charities, that competitive edge was very much evident. I had to really dig in on this one and push myself to the limit to keep up. Again, I didn’t know how my body was going to react and fatigue was a big factor, but I just tried to block it out and get on with it. The Great North Run was a brilliant experience and put in me good stead for the 48 hour Quadrathon.


“Having taken part in all the events of the past and especially the two this year, I have found a bit of peace with myself.

 

It might sound strange after 10 years, but I feel I have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone else. Since the accident I have always liked to think I can compete and still do these things. What it has proved to me most of all is that life is what you make of it, and for me, by making the most of what you have got, things are still very much achievable.

 

I have been able to put something back into an organisation that has helped me so much. Without the help that the Try Assist provides, many players with serious injuries would have no one to turn to, I feel proud to be a part of it.


“It is time now though to take a step back because over the years these challenges can take up a lot of time and you can get so wrapped up in them. I want to focus all attentions on my two greatest achievements, my two year old daughter Annie, and my one year old son Jed. My wife Lucy has supported me immensely throughout everything I have done and we cannot wait for Christmas with our kids.

 

I have great family and friends around me and without them I wouldn’t be as far on as I am today. I am sure I will get the itch to do something in the near future, but for now I am content with where I am in life.”                

All news

Become a Member

Help us support the Rugby League family and its community. Become a member today for £20 a year or £2 per month and you will help to:

  • Support the development of Rugby League
  • Provide targeted health and wellbeing support to members of Rugby League community
  • Protect Rugby League Heritage
  • Support players who are in hardship or distress as a result of a serious injury

You will also receive an exclusive member gift!

Sign up Today