Bobby Griffin’s motorbike was hit by a speeding driver as he rode home one evening. He was thrown several metres through the air, suffering life changing injuries. Surgeons fought for two years to save his leg, before he decided to have it amputated. He’d been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, but that all changed when he chose to have his lower leg removed. He meticulously planned the operation with the help of his prosthetists and physiotherapists. Within weeks he was back playing the Badminton he loved. This month he'll fly to Tokyo as a Para-Badminton coach with Team GB, having become one of the best in the world at his sport.
This episode was recorded in July which is why we don’t talk about Team GB’s medal haul at the Olympics. Bobby’s dog Lola also makes a fleeting appearance.
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What Doesn't Kill Us: Interview with Para-Badminton Coach Bobby Griffin
[00:00:00] Kaija: Hi, I'm Kaija Larke and this is What Doesn't Kill Us.
[00:00:04] Bobby Griffin's life changed in a moment when a speeding driver smashed into his motorbike, as he was riding home one evening. He was lucky to be alive, but his body was broken. The country's top surgeons spent two years saving his leg while he battled depression and suicidal thoughts, before he finally decided to have his leg amputated. This month, he heads out to Tokyo as a coach for the Team GB Para-Badminton squad. It's the first time that the sport has featured in the Paralympic Games, but Bobby faced yet more heartache when his own doubles events wasn't included in the schedule.
[00:00:42] This episode was recorded in July, which is why we don't discuss the supreme efforts of Team GB at this Summer's Olympics.
[00:00:59] Well, Bobby, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. How are you doing?
[00:01:02] Bobby: Yeah. Very well. Thank you. Yeah, pleasure to be here. Thank you.
[00:01:06] Kaija: So we're now on the eve of the Paralympics. How exciting is it to be going to Tokyo?
[00:01:15] Bobby: Honestly, it's a massive relief. I'm just so glad we're finally here. It seems to have taken forever. This cycle seems to have gone on forever with COVID so, huge relief, but ultimately so exciting, especially for us. Our sport badminton first time in the Paralympics. So yeah, it's pretty amazing for us.
[00:01:38] Kaija: Yeah, it must be amazing - all the hard work that you guys have put in. And we'll come back to this in a little while. But to actually be there as part of that Team GB, the first time that badminton is actually going to be in the Paralympics?
[00:01:53] Bobby: Yeah, it really is. My role changed quite a lot from coming up to the north and Sheffield to try and make it as a player. And I didn't quite make it for a few reasons, but, yeah, I've got an important role within the squad and the team. And so to help Tim get to this point already is, yeah, it's a real achievement, even now, you know, and we haven't even got there yet. So it's a great feeling.
[00:02:21] Kaija: So let's come onto your story then. Now, before we talk about your accident pre your life before that, you had a career in media and marketing, didn't you? But you were still very much into your sports. How big a part of your life has sport always played?
[00:02:41] Bobby: Yeah, massive. I think I felt like a typical teenager, young person that - it was all I really cared about at 15, 16 was sports. And I didn't reach a particularly high level in anything, but I was, I felt quietly, I felt confident and I was good at a lot of things, but not amazing at anything in particular. But it dominated my social life. Most of my friends and I studied sport at university because I was so passionate about it at 18. And, most of my friends came from the groups of either sports teams at uni or the sports clubs that I was involved with throughout my teens and into my twenties. So yeah, a lot of my social life was...
[00:03:35] Kaija: And then everything kind of changed dramatically, didn't it, in 2008, when you had your accident, tell us what happened.
[00:03:45] Bobby: Yeah, so I took my motorbike to work. I was a keen motorcyclist from a young age and it was a really nice, sunny June afternoon. I went for a spin after work for about an hour, was hit by a car, not far from where I lived, actually, I was almost home and just sat in traffic, waiting to make a turn down to the garage where I kept the bike. And a young lad was speeding down the bus lane, undercut all the traffic at about 70 miles an hour in the middle of town. And as a woman had sort of slowed the traffic to let me through, I made the turn and he was going so fast, I didn't really have much of a chance, so yeah. Bad luck, bad timing. And, yeah, put me in hospital for six weeks or so. And in the crash I severely damaged my leg. From the knee down, it was smashed to bits, really. I think my tibia and fibula bust in about three open fractures in three places. And then my foot was sort of crushed to the bike. He hit me from the side. And yeah, a couple of ribs, three spinal fractures and I was hospitalized for a little while, so yeah, that was a shock.
[00:05:09] Kaija: Do you remember the accident?
[00:05:12] Bobby: Yeah it was really strange. I was making the turn and just sort of glanced up at this black object that was just hurtling my way and sort of blacked out. I don't remember the impact. But it must've been within seconds or minutes later, I sort of came around and I was under the front wheel of this car. And I didn't really know what had happened. And, adrenaline sort of kicked in and I realized I was in the road and where I was, and I tried to sort of get myself up to get out of the road, because I knew I was sort of in traffic, at which point I guess passers-by or whatever, or people within the accident sort of realized I was coming round and trying to move, and sort of held me down and told me not to move. And, and then I passed out again. So I sort of remember that moment and it must've been minutes later, paramedics were with me and cutting my clothes off and all that. So I remember that and talking to them and managed to remember my partner's phone number and gave it to them for them to call. And I guess the next thing I remember, it was probably an hour later in hospital, coming around again. Yeah. I think I spent the next two days in and out of consciousness. And then spent the next three days in intensive care after they tried to operate, and it all went a bit wrong, because I'd broken a couple of ribs and was having breathing problems and stuff like that.
[00:06:41] Kaija: And you were in hospital for about six weeks. How was your recovery journey altogether? How long did it take you to be able to get out of bed, to be able to get back up on your feet, to be able to do things independently? How long did your recovery take?
[00:07:00] Bobby: It's a real story of two halves in a way, in that, the next year, perhaps 18 months were awful and I can't really hide it. I don't tend to be one that dwells - I'm quite a positive sort of person, an optimist, but, but actually it was rubbish. It was really bad. I didn't realize how bad I'd damaged my leg at the time. And your instincts kind of tell you to just sort of get on with it and whatever they say they could do to try and make things better. My instincts were to say, yeah, absolutely, go for it. I'm with you, you know, whatever it is, whatever it takes, to make things better. So at the time, they kind of asked me at the time, or within those first couple of days in the hospital, would you like us to try and save your leg? Which I almost find quite comical now, being in such a bad mental state initially, I'm in no fit state to make that decision. All I've got is my instinct saying if I lose my leg, I need that. I'm pretty sure I need that. Save it, you know, whatever it takes. So they weren't sure at the time and in a way I was fortunate in that, that week, there'd been a huge pile-up on the M4 down near Bristol somewhere, loads of people injured, loads of people in hospital, over in Bristol, up the road. I was in Bath.
[00:08:31] And, one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country was there trying to sort this mess out with all these people that have been in this huge crash on the motorway. And one of the top plastic surgeons who suddenly became my two best friends for the next two years. Because they said, look, these two guys are over at Bristol who are the best there is. And they're just coming to the end of sorting out this crash, with tons of people that are injured, they'd been there for a week, you know, operating on lots of people. We can get you over there, see if they can do something to save your leg. And of course I said, yeah, absolutely! In my hazy, in-and-out of conciousness kind of state, and because I was fairly fit from sports, because of my frame, I'm not, not a big guy, because I wasn't obese or a smoker or a heavy drinker or anything like that, they said, we've probably got a 10% chance of your body accepting what we could do to try and save your leg and the blood supply being good enough for it to heal, but you've lost sort of 50% of the soft tissue from your foot. You know, we're gonna need muscle grafts and skin grafts, and loads of reconstructive surgery with orthopedic stuff.
[00:09:46] Kaija: So they're, at that point, they're only giving it a 10% chance of success?
[00:09:51] Bobby: Yeah. And again, I find it - funny is the wrong word to use, but I don't know another word to use, but I find it ironic and a bit comical that my instincts were yeah, save my leg at the time.
[00:10:06] They managed to save my leg at the time, rebuilt it with metal rods from knee to ankle, 23 pins, three plates, loads of wiring, all that stuff. And because I was fit and healthy and my circulation is really good, my body accepted what they did. And they took part of my lat and another muscle in my back to rebuild my foot. And they took a lot of skin from my right leg, my good leg, and rebuilt this catastrophe of a leg and foot. It was awful to look at. But my ankle was good, so they salvaged my leg and I spent - I think I had seven operations within the next couple of months for them trying to rebuild this leg. And I was in the hospital for a lot of it at the start and I became a case study for this plastic surgeon who had done some kind of crazy New Age type of surgery.
[00:11:02] And it worked! I was the ideal candidate for it for him, because I was in my twenties, fit, good circulation, all of that stuff.
[00:11:12] Kaija: Otherwise young fit and healthy?
[00:11:13] Bobby: Yeah and they loved it. I was like, you know, star student, if you like, to them. And they are singing my praises and writing reports and talking about this case study in presentations to their students and all this stuff. Meanwhile, I'm stuck at home. Couldn't really go out to work for a few months, miserable cause I can't walk, and laid up for a lot of it. And on crutches. And 18 months went by with loads of physio, reconstructive surgery, particularly the swelling and the plastic surgeon had to keep taking skin grafts and adjusting things as the swelling went down. It went from this, it was almost the size of a football, my ankle and foot down to probably a third of that, which still looks big and an awful, and - typically - me trying too hard in the physio lessons. A year later, I'm breaking stuff that they, you know, used metalware to fix and things like that. So they had to keep putting me under the knife and, all the while I'm on two crutches. When you actually have to try and then go back to work and have a normal life, when you can't carry a pint of milk home from the shops, because you're using your hands on your sticks and then spending 18 months like that, it was hugely demoralising.
[00:12:35] The lowest. That was the lowest point 18 months later was the lowest point. After all the physical pain, it was the mental trauma, I suppose, of : this is my life and it's not really going to get better. 18 months down the line is a long time for an accident and injuries to heal. And it got to the point where, yeah, that was - I was never going to be going for a jog again, or even walking unassisted. I needed something - at the very least one crutch or a cane or something - just to get around the house, but to leave the house to walk 20 yards I needed two crutches. And that was it. I knew deep down that was, that was as good as it's going to get out because we'd tried everything. Nothing was going to take the pain away from the foot that was so messed up.
[00:13:25] Kaija: The physical injuries are being looked after at this point, in a sense. Like you say, you're going through physio, the doctors, the surgeons, the consultants, everybody's doing whatever they can to support you physically. But who's looking after you mentally at this point? And how were you on a day to day basis at that point?
[00:13:47] Bobby: The story turns into a positive soon. So I know it's all a bit doom and gloom, and I'm making it sound really bad, but at the time it was. And in truth mentally, I was so much in a better place and so much more looked after at the point of amputation. And I'm suddenly in a - Right, you're an amputee and these are prosthetics and there are tens, hundreds, thousands of people that use them.
[00:14:15] And lots of more young people these days, thanks to the, you know, wars and things like that. And the military and motorbikes. So, well actually the support then, even though on the face of it, if I walked down the street on crutches and I looked like a reasonably still young, healthy-looking guy, people would assume - broke his leg, playing football, so shame, but you'll get better.
[00:14:42] And I didn't have - not that I wanted any sympathy or support, because I am totally other way. ,I absolutely will turn it all down and do it all myself, but the understanding of what I needed then was - there was no comparison. So the support that I got later with prosthetics and everyone suddenly went, oh my God, you're an amputee, that's the worst thing in the world! And how are you going to cope? And we'll make all these changes and adaptations for you and we'll make sure you're all right. And we'll look after you and we'll send you a psychologist and we'll do all this stuff. Actually, I put on a prosthetic leg and it's a bit aggravating and a bit of annoyance and stuff, but, got my hands back suddenly. And I can walk!
[00:15:24] That didn't take very long. I needed so much more support before the amputation in that period and I had nothing. Because nobody could put me in a box that everyone understood, like being an amputee. Lots of people understand what that means and there's support services there for that. At the time you're just some guy on crutches. He's all right. You'll be all fine. You'll be all right soon You'll get fixed up and you'll be fine. I wasn't.
[00:15:51] Kaija: We've fixed your leg, you'll go off and eventually you'll be okay. And, the assumption then that the whole you is okay, rather than actually what they're doing is fixing the physical, but not dealing with all of that trauma and those mental scars that come with such an accident?
[00:16:07] Bobby: That's exactly it. And, to answer your question, that was the toughest part, because I was so active and all my friends were carrying on with their sports and their social lives and stuff. And I actually didn't want to see them. I didn't want, I didn't look at a badminton court for two years. I didn't go down to my local club and watch my friends train or compete or anything like that.
[00:16:23] I just didn't, I couldn't do it. If I can't be there to play, I don't want to be there at all. And more than that, I went back to work, in the company I was in and I'd been there for eight years at the point of the accident, I was there for another two or three after that.
[00:16:41] And, I I've put on weight. I was miserable. I was angry. I was depressed, eating and drinking. I was getting fat. I didn't like the way I looked. I didn't like the way I couldn't do anything. Didn't like the fact that I was a burden to them because I couldn't actually get on the train and go to London for meetings like I should have been able to do.
[00:17:00] I couldn't really get - I had to get an automatic car. If I went anywhere on a car, I had to keep my leg elevated all the time, because it was always post-operation. And I would be miserable and take it out on my colleagues and administrators there and stuff like that. I remember getting into - not arguments - but being quite fierce and mean and aggressive, I think, with people.
[00:17:24] Kaija: And you don't strike me as that being your natural demeanor. So people must've struggled with that as well. And that kind of personality change that comes with it. Were you aware of it at the time?
[00:17:36] Bobby: No.
[00:17:37] Kaija: Or is it just now, looking back?
[00:17:39] Bobby: I couldn't understand why, I don't know. I was aware when I'd upset somebody, so to speak but, like you say, it's not my normal character. But I almost felt hard done by and felt, I don't know, life just suddenly is so unfair and nobody gets it. So yeah. And my initial accident was June, 2008. And by December, January, Christmas, 2009 - so 18 months later - I'd had enough, actually. I got to the point of - just as I was about to explore amputation - initially my first thought on the subject was speak to my consultants, the same plastic surgeon and orthopedic surgeon about it. And because I'd done so well in their eyes, like I'd got my life back, I was mobile, even though I was on crutches and all the work they did had actually worked, like - I had a leg that my body accepted and, you know, we'll get there, we'll make slight improvements, we'll take, we'll go - orthotics and physio and you know, it'll get better.
[00:18:54] And I'm one of those people that likes to, if I like a new skill or a new sport or something, I'll give it everything. And I learn quickly and I'm used to seeing that development happen and that's it.
[00:19:07] And it started to happen for a few months, six months, then a year went by and nothing much changed. And that was it for me. And they said, no, no, we don't want to amputate. You've got good ankle there. You know, go back and we'll have this operation. And we'll look to this, that and the other. And I went home and it was nearly Christmas, party season at work and all that. And I was so miserable
[00:19:27] And I'm embarrassed by it now. But one late night after a night out with work, me and a friend who lived nearby, stopped in a pub that stayed open quite late. And, she and I were chatting about what was happening and, and I was ready to sort of end it all. I was that low, that I said, I can't do this anymore. I don't know what I'm doing. You know, it was, that was rock bottom for me. And, I hate the fact that I admitted that to somebody at the time. But just admitting it kind of caused a reaction I think even in me. I woke up the next morning and I was like, what are we doing here? I've got to either fight for what I believe is the right thing for me or start considering the end. Do you know what I mean? And I was 29 and it was just ridiculous.
[00:20:19] Kaija: Why do you, why are you embarrassed by that? I mean, I think that's a perfectly acceptable, normal response to the situation that you were in and the trauma that you'd faced and the impact that it had had on your life at that point.
[00:20:36] Bobby: I think it was the fact that it took a drunken night with a colleague that wasn't close to me. That's what I was embarrassed about as opposed to a family member, my partner, the psychologists they told me to go and see, and I refused, you know, that kind of stuff. I should have done it properly and worked through things, but being stubborn and so optimistic and trying so hard, actually probably worked against me in some way.
[00:21:02] But equally it forced me to go black and, and explore amputation. So it was me, and my partner at the time who - what did we do first? Your good friend, Scott Richardson was one of the first amputees that I spoke to. And this was six months before I became an amputee. We looked him up. He was a motorcyclist. He played the bit of badminton - Para badminton actually.
[00:21:28] Kaija: I was going to say, it's about, coming up on two years almost since your accident was the point at which you then decide that you are going to go down the amputation route. And I guess it's that, 2010, post-Christmas, start of the New Year. A lot of people make New Year's resolutions and yours is actually I'm going to become an amputee, and I'm going to, sort of, make this decision that's going to change my life.
[00:21:55] Bobby: It is amazing, what happened...
[00:21:57] Kaija: So there was a bit of a resistance from, the medical professionals that you've been working with because they've, you've had what's deemed as a lot of success really, with your leg so far. So how did you convince them that amputation was right for you? And why did you, I mean - I guess you've kind of touched on it there - about how dark you were feeling at that point and the impact that it was having. But it's not a small decision, is it? To decide to become an amputee when actually your leg has been rebuilt? How did you come to that decision? And why did you decide that it was the best route for you?
[00:22:41] Bobby: Initially the NHS, physio session I used to go to on a Thursday morning at Bath Royal Hospital, I'd been going there for, I don't know, nine months, I think by the stage. And it was making almost no progress, excuse me, really. Things like: trying to weight-bear on that leg or progress as far as sort of hopping up onto like a wobble board kind of, one of those kind of semi-domed soft things, catching the bean bag, throwing it back and landing on the side and that sort of stuff. I was there for months trying to be better and trying to do this stuff.
[00:23:28] And as a sporty person and a competitive person, I was really trying to get well. And, this amputee walked in and he'd been an amputee for a month, three weeks. I think it was, he was three weeks into walking on a, a sort of final leg. It wasn't a sort of a 'PPAN aid' initial test leg. It was an actual leg in a check socket in, like, a plastic socket, but it was a leg that you could, you know, if you had to, go about your life on. And he'd been an amputee for, or on this leg for three weeks and you should have seen him! It was amazing. And he was just up and down and bam, bam, bam, and just like: left, right, left, right. And I thought, wow, that's amazing. I need that.
[00:24:07] And that instantly just went - switch in my head. We need to consider amputation. And, within those next few weeks I was thinking back to - Jeez, that doctor who saw me on that first initial 48 hours said, you'd probably lose your leg. Do you want to try to try and salvage it? And he knew, you know, because he's the expert, but you can't ask somebody who's just been in an accident: do you want us to try and save your leg? Your instinct is going to say, Yes, please! You have no way of weighing up what life's actually going to be like down the road.
[00:24:40] Trying to get by on this two years, loads of operations, angry and grumpy and all that. Just a second - sit down! Sorry, nails on hard floors. She's going to be really noisy. Yeah. S
[00:24:58] Kaija: Sge wants a bit of attention.
[00:25:00] Bobby: Yeah. And I realised at that moment, I was like, oh my God, he knew that potentially I could be so much better off as an amputee.
[00:25:07] And at the time I just dismissed it without thinking about it because, the normal person, Joe Bloggs in the street, doesn't know what - Shall we chop your leg off? You'll being an amputee, but you'll be 90% of your life still. You'll be fine. That person doesn't realize that. And I didn't realize that.
[00:25:26] So at that point I started looking into it and, I sought out a guy called Jim Bonnie. I don't know if you've heard of him? He was an ex Royal Marine down in Devon, which is where I'm from. And at the time he was the only guy to have lost his leg in a similar position to mine. And Scott's - he fell a thousand feet or a thousand metres down a mountain in Nepal or something ridiculous, lost his leg, spent a bit of time, like I had, battling with it, amputated. And then, within sort of two years, he actually then took the Royal Marines basic training again, and passed. And he was the first and only guy to ever do that as an amputee. He doesn't live far from where my family home is. So I'm gonna find this guy, and phone him up and go and see him and see what - just speak to him.
[00:26:17] And he invited me over for breakfast and, but yeah, I remember Jim showed me how he could hop up steps on his prosthetic leg. And I thought, you know, I can't even stand well, n my bad leg. I can do that now. It's actually easy. I can hop up my steps. Do you know what I mean? Then I could run up and down stairs, but in my mind at the time...
[00:26:36] Kaija: Now you're just showing off!
[00:26:38] Bobby: But being an amputee was for me, like, losing your leg, that sort of stuff is not possible, surely? It is! And with a bit hard work and physio and assuming everything goes well, that could be your life. And that was it for me. Then I was like, right, this needs to be my life because I've had enough of this. And, I felt like I was fighting against my surgeons to have the amputation. I wanted it and they didn't want me to have it. That's what it felt like. So I walked in with a, sort of, Excel spreadsheet, pros and cons type of thing, about, look, if I don't have the amputation, this is what I can do in terms of my physical wellbeing, sports, work, all these categories. And if I do have it, potentially, this is where I could be.
[00:27:17] And I gave him all the score and worked it all out and looked like a right geek. But, I think at that point, they then realized: I'm serious about this. We need to amputate my leg. And my plastic - I nominated my plastic surgeon to do it because I got along with him best. And again, lots of research with amputee clinics and I went to meet Pace Rehabilitation, Jamie and my prosthetist, who still my prosthetist, where Scot works.
[00:27:45] I went to see them prior to my amputation to understand if I'm going to have this done, how do I do it best for the prosthetics? Because I don't want to bad-mouth the medical industry, but a lot of people that actually do the amputations, a pair of scissors here, cut people's legs off, aren't the same people that actually then treat a new amputee through the rehab process and through the prosthetics process. And in a very crude way, they read a book...
[00:28:16] Kaija: And actually that needs to be really joined-up, doesn't it?
[00:28:18] Bobby: Massively.
[00:28:19] Kaija: Because if a lot of amputees can have kind of problems with how sockets fit and sores and lots of problems and things that can come from the amputation. So I guess you were in an unusual situation in that respect, weren't you, in that actually you have the luxury, if that's the right word, of being able to research this. You're not having to make that decision or, you know, in Scott's situation from, you know, that he talks about in Episode 3, where actually he woke up from his motorbike accident and that amputation had already taken place.
[00:28:52] His wife had to make that really difficult call and make that decision on his behalf and that can often happen to people, or, as you referenced, the armed forces community, often there is no choice there, whereas actually, for you to have that time to actually research is quite unusual, isn't it?
[00:29:13] So to be able to make the two sides piece together and work together as best they will, post amputation...
[00:29:21] Bobby: Absolutely yeah, and those two sides quickly became about 10 different sides. When I started talking to my solicitors about it and my case managers about it. And then Jim Bonnie, the ex Marine amputee about it and Pace Rehab, the prosthetics people about it, and then my surgeons about it, I - through consultation with Pace and a doctor who works there - we convinced my surgeon to amputate my leg at a certain length, past this particular bony point just below your knee because it would be best for me, based on what I want to achieve later. And he was going to amputate it quite a lot shorter because this book written in the seventies or eighties says whatever 22 centimeters point, whatever past this bone is where you, and that's the kind of thing where there are still massive gaps in knowledge and practice.
[00:30:21] Even, I say today, but 10 years ago when this happened. And because the particular foot that was this all-singing, all-dancing, new prosthetic foot that was out on the market was a certain height, w we wanted to fit that in, but, you also want as long a lever as possible because a longer lever equals less force.
[00:30:44] So if I've got a long stump, a long, you know, I don't have to create as much force to make it work. So if I wanted to go for a run the longer your amputated leg... am I making much sense there? I think so. If I had my leg chopped off just below my knee...
[00:31:04] Kaija: As much of your leg that remains...
[00:31:05] Bobby: As possible. But you want to fit the kit in beneath you, which might have - like this one I'm wearing right now has got like a mountain bike shock, kind of fork suspension thing with a bar that sort of springs a little bit to give you some return.
[00:31:19] If your leg's too long, you amputate, the stump's too long, you won't fit that foot in underneath. So there's a bit of a margin as to where we want to cut it off. And actually the surgeon did cut off there and then rebuilt it. And I had three mls left. If I was three mls longer, I wouldn't have been able to put the fitness foot in, and I'm still wearing the same foot for 10 years, or the same type of foot for 10 years. So he only, he just got it in, which was a bit of a, sort of a godsend for me.
[00:31:48] Kaija: And what was your recovery like then post amputation, you know, particularly in comparison to what it had been like for the previous 18 months, two years? What was your post recovery like?
[00:31:58] Bobby: Hugely, hugely positive. The only things that ever went wrong was because I tried to do too much too quickly, which was typical. But that guy, Jim Bonnie, the Marine, he kept in touch. He wrote a diary and published it. It was Jim Bonnie's Diary, you'll probably find it on Google. It's quite a good read. And in that diary, he kind of gave timeframes for when he was able to do stuff.
[00:32:24] And that was it. I was like, right, that's my competition schedule. I'm going to beat everything that Jim did. Just because that's the benchmark and, if I can keep up with that at the very least, I'm in a really, really good place and if I'm a bit behind, I'm still in a good place. But if I can beat it, that's cool. So that was it then.
[00:32:44] There's a photo on the Pace Rehab website of the very first time they put a check socket on the leg for me to stand on. And the idea is: you're in parallel bars in the physio room, and you hold on and you walk up and down, just to gain the feeling of walking on a leg. So my prosthetist was there and my physio was there and I did this with them up the bars, down the bars, and as I got to the end of the bars, that's was it, I was off! I'm supposed to be holding on or holding their hand or doing whatever. And I just walked out. And I hadn't stood up on my own without crutches for, two years and one month, one and a half months. And that was it. And I just walked out the bars and kept walking. I just stuck and I got a little bit quicker and started doing laps of the room. And they were like Ahh! A bit scared and like - be careful! You know, and all this. And within 30 seconds, a minute, they were grinning, laughing and they ran upstairs to get the rest of the staff in the building to come down, who'd known me by then and say, come and see this. And I just kept walking and, within five minutes, just to show off, I stood on that prosthetic leg, just on that leg, and put my arms out and they took a photo of me. The very first and nobody had done that, or it's just, it was stupid.
[00:34:03] It was ridiculously stupid. I was so in the right place and just couldn't wait. And I was going to do everything I could just to, just to go from that point. So yeah, it was hugely quick. My rehab journey from that point, so I had a leg on my own and I could like leave and just have this prosthetic leg on a check socket by middle of August, about a month after I came out of hospital.
[00:34:27] And in September there was the Amputee Games which Limb Power put together and sponsor. And that's every year for new amputees. And I'd been an amputee, or I'd been on a leg for three or four weeks and I won the badminton there, even though I could almost not stand up and compete in the amputee game.
[00:34:49] Kaija: Well, I mean, that, that, that leads me nicely onto the next question. Because I was going to say, how long did it take you to, to get back into sport, post amputation? But about five minutes, it sounds?
[00:34:58] Bobby: Yeah, it was, you wouldn't advise it. If I was going to tell people, if I met a new amputee, I wouldn't say do what I did. You'll break something or fall over or whatever, but I just couldn't sit still and have my life back independently. And the feeling is incredible so I was going out to Cheddar Gorge, which isn't far from Bath where I lived and I was starting to climb up walls. And, yeah, I competed in the UK Four Nations in November that year and won the Golden Singles.
[00:35:32] Racket sports are a bit different though because I had a bit of knowledge. You could get away with having a limited amount of mobility, and still be able to, you know, with skill and tactics, you can beat people. But, yeah, that was my first gold medal was for the UK and in November.
[00:35:51] And then the next year I was competing internationally for England in the Paralamas.
[00:35:58] Kaija: And how different is it playing - this sort of sounds almost like a daft question - but how different is it playing para sports to playing fully able-bodied sports? How difficult, how different have you found it with badminton?
[00:36:15] Bobby: It's not actually all that different and because it's so normal for me now and the guys that I spend time with day in, day out, week in, week out, are all, they have a disability of some nature too. At some stage throughout the last 10 years, again, because Badminton's new in the Paralympics, the support and the structure behind that, especially in lower levels is so limited and small, that you're almost at home trying to train and play Badminton on your own anyway. So you do what you can. So for a while I went back, that's my old club, and just mixed and - I wasn't playing in the top team for men's doubles at that stage, but they'd put me in the second team and I can play as an amputee.
[00:36:55] And other people were just like, wow, it's an amputee sort of playing Badminton at an alright. lEvel, you know? And I played a couple of - they're called Badminton England Bronze events, which is a fairly decent level. I entered this tournament and there was a young lad that was a junior England player. He was probably 16, 17, and he'd just got off a flight from Malaysia the night before. He'd been on some summer training camp.
[00:37:23] His dad went out with him and we were playing this tournament and I knocked up with him in my tracksuit bottoms. I walk quite well so in a pair of jeans or tracksuit bottoms or something, unless you've got an eye for it, you wouldn't know that I'm an amputee. So I had a hit with him on this court. And just as we were about to then start the actual match, I took them off and played in my shorts and he was young and didn't know how to handle that.
[00:37:47] And I went something like 11-love up in the first game, because he just, suddenly was more worried about, well, am I supposed to be going easy on this amputee guy? Or can I play full out? Or is he actually... Surely he's not that good. And he kind of just, sort of, let me play. And then before he knew it, I'd taken the first game, and he thought, hang on a minute, I'm going to get knocked out of this tournament!
[00:38:09] And so he had to then switch it on and, he won Game 2. But Game 3, I won it. I won that game. It was in a group stage. Because I was good at badminton, my natural hand-eye coordination and over-arm techniques was quite good. So I sat down and played, sitting volleyball for the first time in my life and they wanted to recruit me.
[00:38:29] They said, right, your serve is brilliant. We'll teach you to move around properly, come and join the team. And this was Team GB Sitting Volleyball that's in the Olympics. And I was like, wow, thanks guys. And then for a moment, I was like, overwhelmed. Like that's brilliant. I can't wait. And I thought, yeah, That will mean I've got to take my leg off. I've just gone through all of this to become an amputee to get my leg back. And now we're saying, let's take your leg off and sit on a cold dusty sports halls right here and shuffle around and you're going to play this new sport. And I thought it's not really for me that, you know, that's not why I'm doing this.
[00:39:04] I wanted to run half marathons and climb mountains and play badminton and be with my friends. So, yeah for me, I have treated the whole experience as making me as close to normal, as close to me, physically looking and able as I was before. And I think that's always been my driving kind of mentality behind it.
[00:39:30] I didn't necessarily want it to open up all these new - new opportunities are great, but changing who I already was, wasn't really part of it. I wanted to get that life back and that's, that's where things have... in my mind, I don't see things that differently. The badminton is slightly different because I was suddenly a average league club player and maybe second or 13 county player at badminton, able-bodied and that was fine, but it was nothing to write home about. Really, it was just, if you're passionate about netball and you played for a county second team, your work colleagues and your friends are like, oh yeah, great. It's nothing, you know, you're not going to make the newspapers or whatever, but suddenly I was one of the best in the UK and became one of the best in the world.
[00:40:22] And that opened up a lot of doors doing something I already loved. So it wasn't new. It was just, my competitors were different and new. And the way I needed to play needed to be re-learned, I guess. So yeah, that was exciting because suddenly, kit and money to travel and England, you know, on your back and stuff like that, and people were writing articles about you and taking photos.
[00:40:51] Kaija: And so you were winning a lot of medals at para-badminton, and then obviously the Tokyo games are announced. It's confirmed. As we touched on at the beginning, that badminton is going to be in the Paralympics for the first time ever. And you were in line to be selected as a player for Team GB, but then your event doesn't actually make it onto the schedule for the Paralympics. How much of a rollercoaster was that?
[00:41:21] Bobby: Oh yeah. I mean, it's hard now. It's all been processed now and I've accepted it, but it took a long time because, we knew badminton was about to be announced for the games. And I say about to be announced. I mean, we knew 18 months before the announcement that 2020 should have para-badminton in it and this was 2015, 2016.
[00:41:47] I was single. And, I thought, wll do you know what? If we get to the Olympics, why don't I - our head coach for Team England lives in Sheffield and runs the performance centre for all the juniors in Yorkshire pretty much. I could just rent a flat up there and go up there and see where it takes me and see if we can get to being the top in the world, by the time they announce the classes for Tokyo. And then at which point, surely they'll, I'll be on a full-time funded programme and I'll be Team GB and we'll go for that. So, that was the plan. And by 2017, my doubles partner, Dan Bethel, and I were going into the World Championships as the Number 1 Seed.
[00:42:35] And we were World Number 1 after a few wins that year. And we fully expected our men's doubles class, Standing Men's Doubles class to be announced as one of the categories for the Olympics. We thought we'd be in a great place just as they announced GB funding and all that stuff. And for a reason that I still, none of us can still work out, that particular event didn't make it to Tokyo.
[00:42:59] And so, yeah, it was heartbreaking. Really. It was, it was a real shock. I just didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know... I thought I'd given up my life, I've given up my friends in Bath, my job, my relationship partly.
[00:43:14] I'm one of the most able-bodied in the room when it comes to being a team GB paradigm. And since I'm quite useful as a sparrer anyway, to play against anybody. And I decided to do my coaching badges and see if I could find some work within para-badminton that related to some kind of media or marketing. I was going to use that somehow. So I've since done some commentating for the World Federation, writing for Badminton Europe, and I've now got an operations role within Team GB as well.
[00:43:47] So, yeah, I guess I'm really happy this moment and pretty much my life is full-time in badminton. It pays the bills and I'm still on court for two to three days a week and doing media or operations work within this sport for the rest of the week. So it's perfect. Really for me, I can't really ask for much more.
[00:44:10] Kaija: And how rewarding is it to be able to coach the other players within the team and to help them with their development? Because, like you say, in terms of your disability, you are one of the most able-bodied, most able players within the team. So how rewarding is that to be able to help the others to grow and improve their game?
[00:44:32] Bobby: Yeah, hugely. It's one of those things where, it's hard work, it's early starts is a lot of strenuous, it's a lot of strain on the body. And sometimes it can be really long hours and things like that, but, um...
[00:44:54] The knowledge that I'd get up in the morning and go and do it, even if I wasn't getting paid, is enough. And the reward is that we are a team and it's a really great team. And my friends, two guys are competing, whether it's for the Olympics or just missed out on going to the Olympics. But obviously we've got the world championships in a few months.
[00:45:17] And, there's always a goal. And if I can help in any way, even if it's not necessarily coaching them, but just by being the guy that's feeding them the shuttles so that they can practice their skills, even that's enough sometimes just to come home and feel like you've helped, done something, something positive.
[00:45:38] So, right now doing so much more than that with all the Paralympics set-up and all that stuff in the background off court, spending hours on my laptop and in meetings and things as well, so
[00:45:50] Kaija: And I mean, how has your mindset changed, do you think, since you'll your accident and the amputation?
[00:45:59] Bobby: Oh it levels me out. I think that's it. I think I was, if I was critical with myself when I was younger, I'd try too hard a lot of the time and sometimes it comes across a bit false and it's not as genuine. And I also used to say yes to everything and didn't want to miss out on anything. Almost, it felt like I had hundreds of friends, but none of them were close and genuine and heartfelt, you know, and actually these days I've, I've been a lot more selfish, but in a positive way in that I look after what's close to me and treat it with a bit more respect and care and don't care about the small stuff, which is so easy to say and so hard to do. But I really have got good at only feeling pressure or worry about stuff that is really important.
[00:46:59] And if it's not it's because it's not. And, that would probably be one of my biggest points of advice to anybody, whether it's, you know, what life throws at you and, you know, becoming disabled, or an amputee or whatever. I prefer the person I am today than the person I was just before my accident, hugely.
[00:47:26] And I think that says a lot. And, and in addition to that, I'm kind of glad it happened. Yeah, life's tough sometimes. And it's hard to manage and I've got to be so much more organized and prepared with physically what I am about to do today, the next hour, the next week, all that stuff. But going through what I've gone through, it's taught me a lot. And I'm glad of the lessons I've learned, so to speak. So, I feel better about life these days than I ever did before I think.
[00:48:02] Kaija: Yeah. And that's really good advice for all of us, isn't it? And especially after what the last 18 months or so has brought to all of us, it's a really good outlet that I think we can all take something from. Not only are you riding high still in your badminton career, but you're also back out riding the motorbike.
[00:48:28] Bobby: Yeah, my friends that are motorcyclists hate the fact that I've bought this - I've got a big Harley Davidson, which everyone hates and says, oh, it's built for American roads and it doesn't corner very well and blah, blah, blah. But it's the most beautiful machine I've ever seen and I couldn't resist.
[00:48:46] And I only got back on the bike last year, sort of a 10 year anniversary thing and 40th birthday thing, recently that I thought, you know, life is too short and not, I wasn't scared of getting back on the bike, but at the time, um, when I first thought about it a couple of years after the amputation and stuff, I was still with my partner at the time.
[00:49:17] And she said, look, you can get back on the bike, but if it happens again, I can't go through this again with you. It's too hard for, for her as well.
[00:49:25] Kaija: Which is fair enough.
[00:49:26] Bobby: It's fair enough. And that kind of went well, that sort of made that decision for me a little bit, but you can't get something like that out of your blood. It's there, you know, I'm watching the MotoGP on the TV or take a drive and it's a nice sunny day in somebody nips past on a nice bike and you're like, Oh I'm jealous. And I just had to have it back and, yeah, it sounds amazing. It feels amazing. So, yeah, it's nice to, it's a Sunday afternoon sunny sort of ride, you know, I'm not going out in the wet, I'm not going out in the dark and not going out commuting to work in a busy city.
[00:50:04] Again, that's not the plan. But just to have that back gives you that - gives me that thrill and that excitement. And so, yeah, delighted to be back on a bike. It was interesting though. I had to, it's my left foot, my left leg, the prosthetic, which obviously doesn't turn the ankle. It's got no articulation.
[00:50:25] So we had to custom design a gear-shifter thing to fit, which I advised and helped them make, which was really exciting. So again, I got a chance to be a bit geeky about a hobby of mine. So that was cool.
[00:50:40] Kaija: Sounds like you are definitely, or you have been definitely turning those experiences to the best possible advantage that you could do over the past decade or so. Thank you so much for your time today and for haring you story with us and for very much proving that What Doesn't Kill Us does make us stronger.
[00:50:59] Bobby: Absolutely. And you're very welcome. Thank you Kaija. Appreciate it.
[00:51:03] Kaija: Thank you. And the best of luck for you and all of the team out in Tokyo, we look forward to following the success and hopefully seeing a few gold medals.
[00:51:15] Bobby: Fingers crossed. Thanks.
[00:51:20] Kaija: The badminton events start on the 1st of September if you want to follow Team GB and support the players. Now my next guest on the podcast survived one of the deadliest disasters the UK has ever seen - the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in the 1980s.
[00:51:38] New Speaker: All of a sudden there was a huge explosion and part of the roof of the cinema caved in, suspended ceilings and that but some of the lights came down. There was a initial panic because the whole platform rocked back and forwards, you know, it was just like being inside a big drum or something like that.
[00:52:00] Kaija: It must have been absolutely terrifying.
[00:52:04] New Speaker: Yeah. Yeah. It was a shock to a lot of people. And let's say there was an initial panic.
[00:52:11] Kaija: Joe Meanan shares his amazing story of escape and survival in the next episode. And if you like what you've heard, please do subscribe and leave a review wherever you're watching or listening. It helps others to find the podcast because, well, you know, these stories really do deserve to be heard by more people. So tell your friends and family and let's help to get the message out there.