Guest Blog: How jiu jitsu helped Andrew Bell to overcome being paralysed
In May 2015 my life changed dramatically as a result of a motorcycle accident, which left me paralysed from the top of my chest. I suffered 2 fractures to my spine, 4 broken ribs, a dislocated sternum, a punctured lung, a fractured eye socket & severe damage to my spinal cord. However, having been such an active & adventurous person before my accident, being told that I would never walk again and that I would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of my days did not sit well with me. So for the past 2 years, I’ve been on an incredible journey around the world in attempt to get back on my feet.
After I was told my injuries and prognosis, I instantly thought that I was now facing the biggest challenge of my life and I was not the type of person to just give up and accept someone telling me i can’t do something, so when I received the news, I just had it in my head that I had no time to waste and I was going to face this challenge head on. That first month I very quickly learned what it was like to become a paraplegic & started doing rehab in order to get me out of hospital and on the road to recovery.
I am naturally a very positive person and for me the hardest thing about my crash, was the collateral damage and heartache caused for my family and friends; especially my mum and dad, two brothers, sister-in-law and loved ones at the time. I have always kept a diary ever since my crash which I write things in which allows me to get things off my chest and to look back and see how much progress I am making, which always helps. I think having a martial arts background has helped me be extremely humble & grateful for the millions of things that I still have & can do, rather than be down and depressed about the few things that I have lost. Also my baby nephew Charlie (3) was born with several heart conditions and now lives with only half of his heart functional after several open heart surgeries. He has been through more than most people do in their lifetime, however he has done so with nothing but a smile on his face the whole time and you’d never guess there was anything wrong if you met him. He is such a massive inspiration for me and a huge source of motivation.
After doing extensive research in hospital, I became one of the first people in the world to undergo pioneering epidural stimulator surgery over in Thailand only 6 months after my crash & as a result have done the so-called impossible by taking my first steps as a complete spinal cord injury patient. To date I now have control of my motor functions back in my legs, whereby I can lift my knees to my chest, kick my legs out when sat and flex my ankles on command. I can also now stand on my own for up to 30 mins easily & do sit to stand exercises with very little support. I can take steps of up to approx 50m with a walker. My journey is certainly a marathon & not a sprint & I have a long way to go still, but considering I was told I’d never wiggle a toe for the rest of my life, I am happy how far I have come in a relatively short space of time.
Prior to my accident I did Brazilian jiu jitsu and without a doubt this had a huge impact on my recovery both physically and mentally. At the time of my accident I was very physically fit, having been used to training 4 times a week, which helped speed up the recovery process. Despite my injuries, my fitness reduced my time in hospital to only 10 weeks, which I have been told was one of the quickest rehabilitation processes the hospital had ever seen. I think this is also attributed to the fact that jiu jitsu is a martial arts that trains you to stay calm when you are in a bad physical place and use your training & brain to get out of that position. So as soon as I received the news, I used my training & instantly said to myself that I have been in many many bad places over the years on the mats; admittedly this was a really bad place, however I am going to calm down, think about the situation rationally and compose a game plan of how to get out of it.
People often asked me if I missed practicing jiu jitsu and my response has always been that I miss the competitive side & the training for competitions, but I still actually do jiu jitsu everyday of my life, it’s just not in a gym and on a mat with other people. I get myself in situations daily where my jiu jitsu training kicks in and logically and calmly I get myself out of them, which has allowed me to live on my own independently straight away and to drive again & live a near-normal life. I have actually, since March 2017, returned back to jiu jitsu as a paraplegic and now train again 3-4 times a week and when i spar with people, they just tie their belts around their legs & don’t use them to make it fair. I have set myself a goal of being able to compete in the world paraplegic jiu jitsu tournament in Abu Dhabi by 2019. Watch this space, as my biggest challenge is going to be my biggest achievement.