Invictus

Inspiration’s essential, whether you’re running up a hill , or wondering – whilst in the keep-goingthroes of an incapacitating injury or illness – if you’ll ever be able to exercise again.

I discovered the poem “Invictus” via a showy-off conversation about inspirational verse with a manager I was working for on a temporary assignment (like you do).

The oft-quoted lines are: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”.

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But for me, the knowledge that the poem was written during Victorian times brought to mind the idea of the “stiff upper lip” – so I tended to think, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

I was humbled to discover the poem was, in fact, written while the author was recovering in hospital – and for a long time it didn’t even have a name. 050edba1bf2dcd840845a2169b8d6bf45a5c94-retina-thumbnail-large

William Ernest Henley suffered complications connected with tuberculosis from the age of 12 –and ended up needing his leg to be amputated just below the knee, in his mid-20s.

Determined not to lose his other foot, he underwent a number of operations, described as “radical” – and retained his limb.

Like me, he would have been no stranger to hobbling!

His friend, “Treasure Island” author Robert Louis Stephenson, was inspired by him as a person.

In a letter to Henley, Stephenson told him:  “I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver…the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you”.untitled (19)

Henley’s message of hope continued to have a notable impact in the 20th Century.

Nelson Mandela drew on it at Robben Island prison, where he recited the verse to his fellow inmates – and to himself.

Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela in the 2009 film “Invictus”, told a reporter: “That poem was his favourite… When he lost courage, when he felt like just giving up — just lie down and not get up again — he would recite it. And it would give him what he needed to keep going.”

Here then, are the words Nelson Mandela would say:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 

 

 

 

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The Marathon Man Who Faced Amputation

As Austin Rathe embarks on this Sunday’s London Marathon, his experience of lying in a hospital bed with two shattered legs will be a distant memory.

Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident
Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident

Yet it was these injuries that motivated him to take up running in the first place.

Austin, now 32, was hit by a car in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in March 2001 – and at one point doctors considered amputating one of his legs.

He says he himself was never told about this, but his parents were informed.

The possibility of amputation was discussed a few hours after the accident and there was still a risk after surgery.

A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo from BBC)
A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo: BBC)

Peter Livesley, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Austin, explained: “Not only was the bone broken, but it was in pieces and the skin was broken as well.

“That’s about as serious as you get before losing the limb.”

A long convalescence followed, but when I caught up with him this week, Austin was keen to stress than, unlike many of the people featured so far on this blog, he wasn’t worried about missing out on his exercise regime – because he didn’t have one in the first place!

Wheel of Fortune - the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irrestible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)
Wheel of Fortune – the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irresistible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)

“The thing is, I wasn’t ‘side-lined’. When I had the accident I never did any exercise at all,” he told me, “It was not a part of my life in any way. Of all the things I missed, I didn’t miss exercise.”

He continued: “I was always going to be able to walk again, but I was not sure about running, so I had to push myself,” he said, “When you go through those experiences you have to have something to aim for. It’s months and months of physiotherapy.”

Pleasure at the fairground - he's back on his feet after the accident in 2001
Pleasure at the fairground – he’s back on his feet after the accident in 2001

So the man who had never run more than a mile made the decision to run a marathon while still in his hospital bed.

Fast-forward to the 2004 London Marathon and he completed it in four hours 15 minutes and 26 seconds.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s no “fast-forwarding” in real life – nobody can wish the time away to full recovery.

Austin’s convalescence from such serious injuries was considerably longer and far more arduous than my own, which, though annoying, is trivial in comparison.

So what advice does he have on handling the situation?

“It feels like a very long time, but in retrospect the good thing is you don’t feel that time. It’s very boring when you’re recovering but it quite quickly becomes a memory. It can be difficult and depressing for lots of reasons but it does go away.”

When I spoke to Austin just before the 2004 London Marathon he had no intention of running another one, but other marathons followed, with a three-hour-52-minute personal best in 2007 (“Every time I finished one I said ‘that’s my last one’ – but it becomes more attractive. Each you forget how it hurts!”).

He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games
He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games

He’s not sure whether the injuries sustained in 2001 still impact on his running now.

His left shin (where pins, now removed, were drilled in to secure an external fixator) swells up on long runs and he has to watch his knees.

Nevertheless, he says he’s “determined” to enjoy the 2015 London Marathon (“I’m not bothered about time, anything between four and four-and-a-half hours will be fine”).

Austin wants to raise £2,000 for Special Effect, a tiny charity which helps kids with disabilities play video games – you can donate on his JustGiving page here https://www.justgiving.com/austinr

Read my original BBC article about Austin Rathe here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/nottinghamshire/3534221.stm  Admittedly it is difficult getting to view Anthony Bartram’s TV report, but you may be luckier than me!