Craig's World of Sport

Posts Tagged ‘RDA

Who Am I?

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I’ve written this blog to potentially go on another blog about my riding. It will probably be a lot shorter by then but I really want to share the full version. Thanks for reading.

So, who am I? And how did I get to the point of wanting to become a para equestrian with the goal of competing in dressage at a future Paralympics? Simple answer I didn’t, I wanted to be a football commentator with the goal of commentating on a World Cup Final. Listen one thing you will find about this piece is I’m honest, I’m self-deprecating and I like to think I can be funny but you can be the judge of that.

My name is Craig Harrison, I’m 38 and live in a small part of the world called The Wirral Peninsula, Wirral or The Wirral (big debate for another day) is located on the banks of the River Mersey just over the water from Liverpool. I would happily call myself a scouser I know lots don’t but I do, I love the area I’m from and for me there is no greater city in the world than Liverpool. I was born with disabilities, a club foot, left leg was deformed, I have congenital hip dysplasia and scoliosis of the spine, in fact I have a double scoli which means my back curves twice. I’m a bit of a medical mystery to be fair, when they amputated my leg at the age of 7, best thing they ever did, it was described as “the most unusual bone structure we have seen”. Not bad I suppose it’s a claim to fame that my wonky leg has been written about.

I’ve always wanted to do the best I can and be the best, having 1 leg or any of my disabilities hasn’t stopped me or slowed me down too much. I have always pushed the boundaries and if I was told no I couldn’t do it I asked why and tried to figure a way I could. I was one of a group of young disabled people in 1990 who went to mainstream school. We were the 1st to transition from special needs education into the mainstream education system. It was a struggle but I came out with grades I was happy with and it helped pave the way for other physically disabled to go directly to mainstream when people realised our brains were not affected by our physical appearance.

When I left school, I started work as a YTS in office work, it wasn’t what I wanted to do but it paid the bills, even at 16 I had them! This led to full time work and other great opportunities.

Whilst I was working at an organisation called Wirral Action I was made aware of a scheme run by Raleigh International called the Merseyside Millennium Award Scheme (RIMA). This was a lottery funded expedition for 120 young people plus 40 support staff all from Merseyside to spend 12 weeks in Namibia in 1998. Of course, I jumped at the chance to try and win a place on the expedition. So, in the middle of January or February 1998 I got to spend a lovely cold weekend in the outdoors at Hepdon Bridge. There we had to pass different tests including team building, problem solving and sleeping out as a group under a bivywhack. That was cold trust me. One of the things I was most proud of was at the time I was still wearing my artificial leg and I managed to walk the 1st mile with my group of the trek, it was and still is the furthest I’ve ever walked in 1 go. But I did it. This determination despite the pain I believe helped me win a place on the expedition. So, in October 1998 I was off with 160 other people who have now gone on not just to become friends but family because we united on that trip and did some amazing things. I personally got to help in Bushmanland home of the San, the oldest indigenous tribe in Africa. This is something I will never ever forget building a school for children who would never have had that opportunity without our help. The smiles from those people as they danced on the newly concreted floor the day the school was opened will live with me forever.

It was at this time I realised I didn’t need to wear my artificial leg. It was heavy, cumbersome and made me feel far more disabled than I was without it. I would still wear it off and on until 2004 or 05 but hated it till I finally decided I’d had enough of it. I would wear it for other people as it looked better or it was the norm and was expected, I now know you should do it for yourself not to please others.

When I come home I got involved in playing amputee football and started training with the England squad. I was luckily enough to be selected to go to Ukraine in 1999. This was something else, a lad who loved football from a family of some decent armature footballers, getting to represent his country. I spent 90 seconds on the pitch during the whole tournament and never touched the ball but I got on the pitch and no one can take that away from me. I was an international footballer. My England shirt is proudly on display in my son’s bedroom. I also represented Everton’s mixed disability team and was joint captain when we lifted the charity shield in Cardiff in 2000.

I met my wife Helen in mid-1999. We must have hit it off or something because just 6 months after getting together we married in February of 2000 after getting to spend Millennium eve down at the Millennium Dome in London with HRH The Queen and other dignitaries all due to my time with Raleigh. I was a very proud Millennium Award Winner who that night at the Houses of Commons and the Dome I got to represent all RIMA Award winners.

Helen and I have now been married 17 years and have a lovely son called Clayton who I will tell you more about soon.

Like any couple, we have had great times and not so great times but on a whole our experiences have made us stronger and we are a great partnership. Helen has been there for me when I have suffered through bad depressions due to my disability and bereavement, but we got through them. It is not something I’m ashamed of to admit it’s a daily battle to keep going but I do because I believe I have a goal to complete and I’m not ready to give up yet.
It was in 2004 that my disabilities started to get worse. I suffered huge amount of pain in my hip that even up to now doctors don’t know what caused it or how to treat it other than manage with pain medication. Because of my hip problems my scoliosis kicked off causing me back pain as well, again nothing they can do, I just have to get on with it which I do.

During this time, I found out that I couldn’t have children, this was an awful time and put a strain on our marriage. Again, I’m not ashamed to say it was me with the problem. A lot of men don’t talk about infertility as it’s not the done thing but why? It can’t be helped and there is support out there. We successfully went through IVF treatment at the Hewitt Centre at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. We are 2 of the lucky ones it worked 1st time for us. Clayton was born 31st January 2009, he is my little miracle and proudest achievement in my life.

As I say I suffer with chronic pain in my hips and back. I went on a special Pain Management Programme in 2013 and this has really helped me in some ways manage my day to day activity and realise sometimes too much is too much. I must plan my days without over doing things to avoid the low points where my body says no. This does happen still thankfully not to the extent it used to where I had been laid up in bed for sometimes 6 weeks at a time. I now at least know when it may happen and can lessen the impact of such periods with careful management of my pain medication.

In 2014 I was told that horse riding would be good physio and help me develop my core muscles. I had done this during primary school but not since so thought I would give it a try. After a little wait, I was invited to join the Foresters Horn Riding for the Disabled group now based at Foxes Riding School. I loved it and was told I was quite good at it. I was asked about dressage and I said I would consider it as I loved competing. Sadly, my nan passed away in 2015 before I got chance to start properly. I went back into that dark cloud of depression and stopped riding.

Thankfully in September 2016 I went back and this time I was determined. With the help of my trainer and coach Moira and my groom Helen (yes, she’s no longer my wife 1st) we managed to put in a test to Dressage Anywhere. They allow you to video your test at your home yard and send it in to be judged. My 1st test was on Jilly who I had been riding thanks to a lovely lady called Nikki. Jilly is an old girl in horse years but as spritely as they come and we did an amazing test for a 1st go. I wanted to score over 40% but to my surprise and utter delight I score 66.67% and instantly qualified for their online RDA National Championships. I scored over 66% a month later a different horse so maybe I could do this.

I decided I would really give it a go and try and go for the “unreal” goal of the Paralympics. I trained as much as I could in the winter but due to weather etc. it was difficult. Early this year I loaned a horse and was in training for the RDA North West Championships, unfortunately the loan ended abruptly and 5 weeks out I was left with no horse to ride. Step in Natalie and her horse Beauty who needed some exercise and work doing as she had been lame and put some weight on.
We clicked straight away, I even ran through the test for the championships on her and she just got it. This was a horse who had never done dressage before in her life. So, I asked could I take her to the championships and thankfully Nat said yes.

We put in 5 weeks hard training as many days as my body would let me. So, on Sunday 14th May I went to my 1st ever face to face comp with a horse that never goes out of her home yard. She was brilliant like an old pro we score 73.24% the highest score on the day in any class and qualified for the National RDA Championships in Hartpury, Gloustershire over the weekend of 14-16th July. Am I excited yes but also very nervous as this was a realisation that the “unreal” goal could be a reality.

So, what’s next for me? During the Championships, I will be graded so I can compete at the correct category going forward, currently I only do walk tests. This will enable me to compete at more events next year on the BD Para Intro circuit which is the level between RDA and full British Dressage Para events and the Elite Performance Programme. This is where I want to be. Will it happen in time for Tokyo 2020 who knows, it’s unlikely as everything just needs to click? I’m not ruling it out but realistically 2024 is more likely to be my goal, but let’s try for 2020.

So that’s my story, if you’ve made it this far thanks I hope that gives you some insight to who I am and my journey to hopefully one day getting a gold medal for Paralympics GB.

Before I go I want to thank some people, Helen mostly for being my groom, my wife and my carer without whom most days I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. To Clayton my biggest fan and person who drives me to be better every single day. Moira my coach who gives up her time to make me the best I can be. Finally, to all the owners who have let me ride their horses, Nikki, Lisa, Natalie and Foxes Riding Centre. I’d also like to thank Irving’s Law of Liverpool who saw a piece about me in the Wirral Globe who have kindly sponsored me for the National Championships.

To everyone who has wished me well or donated to me I can honestly say I’m humbled and honoured. But remember this is just the start, I aim to be the best.

If anyone would like to help in the future please get in touch with me or you can donate via my Go Fund Me page here


Written by pegleg5125

22/06/2017 at 11:57 am