Back in 2017, Ed Jackson suffered a horrific accident in a swimming pool that ended his rugby career and left him paralysed, with doctors warning that he’d never walk again.
During a weekend off, the former No 8, who played for Wasps and Dragons, dived into a shallow swimming pool and suffered extensive spinal injuries.
Ed Jackson was a successful rugby player until he suffered a horrific accident[/caption]
He was left paralysed and told he’d never be able to walk again[/caption]
The former Welsh rugby player – who remembers the accident “vividly” – even had to be resuscitated three times in the ambulance on his way to hospital.
While many people would have been left devastated and unable to cope with this news, that was never going to be the case for Ed, 32.
He has defied professional opinion, climbing Mount Snowdon, and even the equivalent height of Everest on his parents’ stairs during lockdown, and managed to stay positive ever since the accident.
A true sign of just how uplifting a person he is, Ed was even “cracking jokes” in the immediate aftermath.
Here, Ed – whose book Lucky has just been published – opens up about how a horrendous, life-changing accident became a “blessing in disguise”.
‘My head was bleeding everywhere’
During time off from playing rugby in 2017, Ed didn’t have a care in the world, enjoying a barbecue on a sunny day in Bristol.
He entered a swimming pool, but misjudged the depth.
“It was just an accident,” he tells us. “I picked the wrong end of the swimming pool to dive into, but it turned out to be about three feet deep.
“I hit my head on the bottom pretty hard and broke my neck quite badly and luckily there were people in the pool to stop me from drowning.
“But it looked pretty bleak for a while.”
Ed had to be pulled from the water by his father – a retired GP – and a friend after striking his head on the bottom.
He dislocated his C6/C7 vertebrae, which holds most of the weight of the head and provides support to the lower part of the neck.
He also exploded a disc, which caused the shards to slice through the left hand-side of his spinal cord.
While many would have been immediately devastated, Ed was quite the opposite.
He laughs: “I remember cracking jokes at one of my friends who was stood on the side of the pool, like he’d seen a ghost.
“It was probably quite a lot more graphic for him watching me – I’d lost all movement and sensation, and my head was bleeding everywhere – but, looking out, I remember him looking really pale and I was like, ‘You’d have thought you’d broken your neck, not me!’”
‘I kept apologising to my wife’
Ed remembers apologising to his now-wife Lois when she saw him in hospital[/caption]
Ed says he was “in shock” in the following hours after his accident.
“It’s amazing how the brain works,” he remarks. “I knew from the off that was the end of my rugby career, but you kind of go into these coping mechanisms, trying to distract yourself and reframe things.”
The severity of Ed’s situation didn’t sink in for him until his now-wife Lois arrived at the hospital in Bristol.
She’d driven from Cardiff with no knowledge of how serious Ed’s injuries were, as his parents didn’t want to worry her in the hour-long car journey over.
“It really hit me when Lois arrived in hospital,” he recalls. “When she turned up, I couldn’t stop apologising to her, because I knew the potential implications to both our lives moving forward, I then knew how serious it was.”
‘Losing my best friend prepared me’
This wasn’t the first time Ed had dealt with trauma, as he lost his best friend when he was 23 years old.
He believes that going through that devastation and coming out the other side prepared him for coping with the aftermath of his accident.
“It hits you like a tonne of bricks at the time,” he recalls. “But then I remember, like six months later, feeling almost guilty, thinking, ‘Why am I not more broken?’
“But it’s just under the surface, it’s your brain coping with it so that it doesn’t just destroy you, because you have to get on with life.
“And it wasn’t until I broke my neck that I realised my best friend dying had actually made me a lot stronger.
“I thought, ‘I’d been through something terrible before, and I survived it, so I can survive this.’”
Learning to walk again
Ed had to learn to walk again following the accident[/caption]
In the months following the accident, Ed went through extensive surgeries and rehabilitation – with the help of his parents, and Lois, who became his live-in physio.
He was doing four to five hours of intense physio everyday.
He says it gave him a new outlook on life, as he had to lower his expectations and be grateful for the small things.
He recalls: “I was in intensive care, early on, just fighting to be independent, and getting used to my wheelchair.
“So when I was able to stumble around and get from my bedroom to the kitchen and feed myself, those things made me happy.
“Just being able to use my legs or having an amazing support network around me of my family, I would never take them for granted anymore.”
“I think that level of gratitude just makes you a happier person day to day because you just feel lucky to be alive and to be able to do the things you can do rather than be annoyed about the things you haven’t got and the things you can’t do”.
He has now climbed Mount Snowdon, the Himalayas and the Alps[/caption]
After nine months, Ed was using his wheelchair on and off, but, ever determined, he decided to work towards climbing Mount Snowdon to mark a year post-accident. He chose to raise money for the charity, Restart, which helped him after his accident.
He says: “I wanted to try and send a message to other people who’ve been given a negative prognosis that what the doctors said doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
“I just wanted to be an example of hope to the few people it might reach.”
By the time of his trek, he still needed splints and sticks to walk, and it took nine hours to climb to the summit.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done up to that point, but I had the most incredible weekend,” he says.
“I remember being stood on the summit, looking out and just thinking, ‘Wow, I feel like myself again’.”
Ed raised over £22,000 for Restart, which helps rehabilitate injured rugby players.
Ed says: “I thought I’d completely lost my identity, and that definitely wasn’t the case anymore.
“I felt like I was helping other people again, and I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and done it with other people, and that was incredibly addictive.”
‘A blessing in disguise’
In fact, it was so addictive for Ed that it spurred him on to continue testing his body and pushing himself to the limit, trekking through the Himalayas and the Alps.
Last year, during the first lockdown, he even climbed the height of Mount Everest – 89,056 steps and 2,783 trips up and down the stairs – in his parents’ house in a “weird four days”
Ed and Lois set up the charity, Millimetres 2 Mountains, in 2019, which aims to support those suffering with their mental health as a result of adversity.
Ed and his wife have also raised over £50,000 for their partner charities – which include organisation that helped Ed with his recovery.
Having inspired others by also being a keynote speaker, Ed believes his accident was a “blessing in disguise”.
“It made me realise I’m way more capable in different directions than I thought I was,” he explains.
“I think we all get pigeonholed by society, and, as a rugby player, you’re told, this is how you act, you like things that rugby players like, you hang around with other rugby players.
“And I was terrified of what I would do after being a rugby player, because I thought that’s all I can do, that’s all I know, which, of course, is a load of rubbish.”
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He continued: “One of the scariest things at the start was having that taken away, and my identity removed.
“But actually, in the long run, it’s been a blessing in disguise, because it’s removed that lens on my life and made me start from scratch again, and made me go out and explore who I really am and what I actually enjoy.
“So the biggest realisation for me has been you don’t have to live the life you’re told, you can go and live the life you want, find things you’re passionate about, follow those dreams and work on them. Because you’re way more capable than you realise.”
Lucky by Ed Jackson (published in Hardback by HQ, HarperCollins) is out now.