Some five years ago, in October 2011, my brother Jake was knocked off his bike and received a devastating brain injury. His chances of recovery were minimal and we were warned to expect the worst. As it happens he has made a remarkable recovery, but there were many bumps along the way and it was incredibly hard to explain just what it was like to endure this painful journey, willing him to get better whilst grieving for the loss of the life he once had.
A few months after his accident, whilst Jake was still very unwell, my sister in law and I came across a young man on twitter, Richard Hammond (no, not that one), running an account that was first called @hammondshead and then @myABIbyRH. Using the hashtag #adaptandovercome he shared his experiences during his recovery to address the isolation felt by so many brain injury sufferers and their families. Before being injured in a hit and run, he was a promising young racing driver who was winning prizes, moving in F1 and other professional racing circles and who was clearly destined for great things.
With the support of his family and particularly his twin brother Scott, Richard started on the path to recovery, and his colleagues in the motor racing world did their best to help him get back on his feet, offering him different types of work still connected with racing even though he couldn’t drive at the same level again. Throughout all of this though, he used his twitter account to encourage others, sharing his successes along with the sadness he felt at being unable to do everything he had wanted to do in the past.
He remained a competitor at heart though, and he decided to raise funds for Headway – the Head Injury charity – through a sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats. During training, disaster struck when he fell off his bike and (despite wearing a helmet) sustained a second brain injury. It’s hard to imagine how he and his family must have felt and frankly I am not sure I want to. Yet, he still wanted to share what was going on and, as soon as he felt well enough, he would sneak onto twitter and post occasional updates. You could tell from the slightly mangled sentences that he was struggling to express himself but for those of us who had been inspired by his first journey, it was a joyful thing and we rushed to encourage him through a second recovery.
I’m telling you Richard’s story because he is an example of how one person can make a difference. You don’t have to be in charge of a massive organisation to be a leader, Richard inspired and led so many people affected by brain injury simply by sharing his story. He would talk about how he couldn’t do one thing but could find a way round the problem and exhort us all to #adaptandovercome, and during some very dark days for us and our family he was a real beacon of hope. As individuals we have the power to motivate, encourage and inspire – all leadership traits which Richard embodied throughout the time I ‘knew’ him online.
Last week, Richard died suddenly as a result of injuries he received following a seizure when the cart he was working on toppled and fell onto him. He was doing something he loved, and in the months before his death he had become a father to a little girl he adored. My heart goes out to his family and all the people who cared about him, and I hope that they know how much he meant to so many people that he never met in person but into whose darkest days he shone a little light.