Phil's Story

One day twelve years ago I set out on my motorbike to ride to the coast. I never arrived. Not far from my destination I survived a near fatal road traffic accident. That short sentence can't describe the full impact of my collision with a 25 tonne truck while fully conscious as I went under the driver's wheel. 

The devastation of the crash left me with multiple injuries to my legs, hands, shoulders, head and torso, the eventual amputation of my right leg just below the knee, and the long term affects of post traumatic stress and depression. To hear that no one expects you will live, then when I did, to hear that you may never walk again, then when I did learn to walk, to lose your career, your home and not a few of your friends along the way. Let's just say without too much melodrama that I have spent many days in the depths of despair and depression.

I had worked as a children's therapist for almost a decade within a dedicated therapeutic children's unit. I enjoyed the camaraderie of a close knit team and had become a team leader and manager. On my days off I would go to the wonderful hills and mountains close to my home on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales to hike, trail run and ride my mountain bike. On weekends I would go with friends to dance until sunrise in the clubs of Leeds.

Over the next three years I worked on my recovery and rehabilitation. I drew on years of martial arts practise with an aim to not just learn to walk again but to return to an active lifestyle. No longer able to ride a mountain bike, trail run or walk without lots of pain I felt stuck in a rut until a I turned to the vertical dance of rock climbing. On the slabs and overhangs of the vertical world I felt free. It also marked a deeper connection with nature and the healing that it offered when outdoors.

I became a keen climber with some classic multi-pitch climbs under my belt both in the UK and Europe. However, eight years later I had to make a fateful decision for one more major operation on my right thigh. With a now long familiar inevitability that I knew so well, I started the laborious process of recovery from a wheelchair once again. I had the potential if the operation proved successful to perhaps run again.

One day after some months I took my first faltering steps from walking to running. I cannot describe the joy nor the hammer blow of realisation at just what a superhuman effort I would need to exert if I wanted to run again but run again I did. Short intervals of chest heaving jogs that turned into wonderful trail runs through the woods, forests and moorland that surround my home.

In nine months I went from not even contemplating running ever again to the joy of hearing my prosthetist say, ‘Phil, you've worked so hard I've recommended that you receive a blade.’ The elation of running on a blade compared to the limitations of running on a prosthesis designed for walking feels like removing blocks of concrete from your feet and slipping on the lightest of spiked shoes.

Inspired I set myself the challenge to run the Dalesway, over 135km or 80 mile of trail running, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of surviving my horrendous accident. I raised over £2000 for the charities Mind, Combat Stress, Martin House Children's Hospice and Survival International. The engagement I had with people inspired by the challenge took me by complete surprise. 

In 2013 my prosthetist nominated me for the Award for Inspiration at the national Limbless Association Prosthetic and Orthotic Awards. In December that same year I had the honour and privilege to travel down to Westminster to receive the award. I dedicated it to the work of the medical professionals who saved my life and the unstinting love and support of my family, friends and colleagues without whom I could not have taken on the immense journey of recovery.

One creative turn since my accident has taken me back to my therapeutic work with traumatised children where I had used creativity and play as a means to explore and ease the long terms affects of surviving significant trauma. I turned to the medium of creative writing to explore the still raw traumatic experience for myself.

I began to write and collate prose and poetry with no intention to publish. Those pieces acted, as one of my therapists said, “As windows that give other people a view into the affects of living with significant trauma.” With the ongoing support and encouragement from friends and family I produced a short collection of poetry that I self-published as an Ebook in 2012 titled, ‘Heart on the Mountain,’ then in paperback in 2013. With its production I drew a line between the event that changed my life so irrevocably to the life I look forward to now. 

The reviews and feedback from people who have read my poetry amazed me. I get asked to facilitate poetry workshops nowadays, most recently for a group of people who live with and manage depression and post traumatic stress. This year I produced and directed a film of a spoken word poem written by me and performed by Patient Carer Community members at the University of Leeds. I'm in the process of post-production with an aim to showcase in a short film in August. It includes Dr Kate Granger, the founder of the #hellomynameis campaign who I have worked with at the University of Leeds. I have a second collection of poetry on its way too.

I speak at conferences on the lived experience of surviving significant trauma, recovery and rehabilitation. Work as a facilitator, mentor and simulated patient at the University of Leeds Institute of Medical Education and as a Faculty Associate at the Centre for Innovation in Health Management, Leeds University Business School. I also run fly fishing guide service from my home in Yorkshire, another way into the great outdoors.

At one presentation to a group of students in 2013 I came across a new and exciting sport called VX. Like a cross between lacross and dodgeball, VX has grown from its roots in North Yorkshire to spread around the world. Schools, universities and the arm forces are beginning to adopt this sport with an explicit core value of inclusivity built into it's aim. Girls and boys play the game together and against one another as do people with various physical and mental impairments. I became the first blade runner to play this game and at the invitation of the founders had the great privilege to become a Patron to the sport.

In 2014 I ran the 10 k leg of the Ripon Olympic distance triathlon as part of the VX team. The scorching hot and humid weather took a heavy toll when I took my leg off to reveal a bloody and skin worn stump. I couldn't wear my leg for three days but the elation of completing the course while supporting a worthwhile cause helped ease the pain.

This May, at the invitation of members of College of Occuptional Therapy Specialist Section Trauma and Orthopaedics, I took part in the Cumbrian Challenge 2015 in support of the Walking with the Wounded charity. I had delivered a keynote speech at their clinical conference the year before where I talked about the need for rehabilitation to take on the mental and emotional impacts of trauma as much as the physical ones.

We took part in the Tough Challenge, a hike of 20 km and over two mountains. We completed the challenge in a little over seven hours with everyone well and in good spirits at the end. The weather was dry but strong winds and gale force gusts made the final climb up the steep scree slopes of Fairfield (875 m) difficult to say the least for some teams. I struggled on the descents, always difficult with a lower limb prosthesis, with terrible pain from tendonitis in my 'good leg', the left knee. It took rest of several days for the inflamination to settle down.

It turned out I was the only lower limb prosthetic user who took on the challenge. I recieved lots of best wishes and surprised looks from the other teams on the day, including a team of Paratroopers who thought it an awesome challenge, which was great. The Walking with the Wounded team organised a fantastic event with a great balance of superb organisation, support and good humour.

Most recently I have taken on learning to swim again. I used to swim competitively at school and had enjoyed surfing but since my accident I had only taken a few tentative dips in swimming pools or the sea. Like learning to walk its about balance, core strength and coordination. It feels so good to get back into the water again and I wonder why it has taken me so long to do so. I would encourage anyone with limbloss or trauma to go swimming if you can. The buoyancy of the water gives our joints a vital rest from weight bearing and encourages joint mobility while building strength. It just feels so good too.

If I could speak with the traumatised and frightened me all those years ago I'd offer by way of advice that the crisis of trauma will change your life in ways unimaginable but life goes on anyway. There'll be ups and downs, good progress followed by devastating setbacks but it's an opportunity too. An opportunity to try alternative ways of being and living. Ways that have led to new friendships and of doing things I would never have contemplated of doing before the day my life flipped and turned upside down. Just try, that's all.

More about Phil

Philip Sheridan - Facilitator, Poet and Writer.

Philip grew up in Yorkshire where he lives today. He hitchhiked around the world after leaving school at 18. On his return to the UK he worked for over 20 years in the public sector as a therapist, team leader, practice educator, trainer and manager supporting children and families.

Philip runs his own business as a professional facilitator, coach and mentor. He speaks about the lived experience of surviving significant trauma, recovery and rehabilitation. He works at the University of Leeds Institute of Medical Education and Leeds Business School as a facilitator and tutor. He's a proud member of the esteemed Patient | Carer Community at the University of Leeds where patients and carers teach and assess medical students across all five years.

In December 2013 he had the honour and privilege to travel down to Westminster, London to receive the Award for Inspiration at the national Limbless Association Prosthetic and Orthotic Awards.

Patron to VX Global - a new dynamic and inclusive sport with an aim on the Olympics.