U.K. paralympic champion Mark Colbourne’s relationship with his daughter has endured both divorce and the near-fatal accident that left him with a life-changing disability. He credits her unconditional love for getting him through nearly six months in hospital and inspiring him to go on to win gold and silver medals in para-cycling at the London Paralympic Games in 2012.
My previous family life was a battle between my love for sport, coupled with being a normal husband and loving dad. As the saying goes: “You can tell the size of the man by the size of the problem that gets him down.”
I felt really low inside.
As a couple, we managed for 12 years. But then in 2003, when my daughter Jessica was nine years old, I had to make a choice about my future as my marriage wasn’t working and I was unhappy. I felt excluded from the family while trying to keep the peace with my now ex-wife, who expressed that I wasn’t keeping her in the life to which she was accustomed. I so wanted to tell Jessica how much I loved her and that it wasn’t her fault I was leaving.
I knew the whole street was watching me that morning when I decided to leave for good. I left my home and my angel-eyed daughter that I totally adored and loved behind. I endured a slow walk of shame down the very pathway that I designed and built myself five years earlier. It was a real tough pill for me to swallow.
Weekly park visits, the odd cinema trip and days out by the seaside eating fish and chips were all I could afford at the time. But I knew deep down that in her heart, Jessica didn’t judge me. She was a very wise kid.
My life then took a very different turn in May 2009. While paragliding above the breathtaking coastline of South Wales, my canopy collapsed unexpectedly due to a cross wind and I fell to the ground from 40 feet. I was left with lower leg paralysis and drop foot in both feet, after breaking my back at T12 in the near-fatal impact.
I don’t know how my precious daughter coped with all the stress and trauma at such a young age. Jessica was so supportive and loving during my long-term recovery, visiting me often and bringing her warm personality to the stressful hospital ward. Jessica saw my natural inner strength come through while I was paralyzed from the waist down for 94 days. I was alive, grateful and humbled. I think that my determination to not lose hope helped Jessica to stay positive throughout my accident and life-changing disability.
When I finally left hospital after nearly six months, I had gained some functionality back in my legs, which thankfully allowed me to cycle. Jessica was the first to say to me: “Dad, you’re going to be okay because you are a fighter and a winner.”
Fast-forward three years to that spectacular summer of sport and the London 2012 Paralympic Games. With my ability to cycle well, I trained hard and grew stronger to live out my childhood dream to proudly represent Great Britain. My fondest memory was handing my mother and daughter their tickets to watch me para-cycle in front of the world. Against all odds, I not only won two silver medals but also went on to smash my own world record and win gold for my country in the 3km pursuit.
I hope I’ve modeled for Jessica how to be strong, focused and determined no matter what life throws at you. She is now at University studying psychology, having passed all her exams with flying colours, despite living through exceptionally difficult times—first the divorce of her parents and then my near-fatal crash.
Knowing deep down the love and affection I have for Jessica, I now feel embarrassed that I’ve missed the opportunity to express my honest feelings. I’m very proud to have this amazing, genuine and kind woman as my daughter. Because I never spoke my mind when I should have, I now worry that our relationship is only half of what it could be.
The unconditional love that my daughter has brought to my life, even after enduring uncertainty, is a gift that I will always cherish.
I have lived these words, with the hopes that Jessica will too; “The best dreams happen when you’re awake.”
This is #1000families post number 43. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.