Gordon ‘Nobby’ Clark served his country as a Royal Navy steward for 26 years onboard ships and submarines. He loved his life at sea and was preparing to deploy to the Falklands in 1982 when an injury changed his life forever.
During routine training he injured his ankle. What seemed to be a straightforward, minor injury proved not to be the case. He never made it to the South Atlantic and now faced years of medical treatment: “It was left for a week before anything was done with it. Ever since then it kept collapsing and giving way until it got to a point of where I had had 13 operations.” Eventually, years after the original break, surgeons had to remove part of his right leg.
His ankle injury meant he was unable to take part in leadership courses and physical activity. This stalled his career advancement and he stopped getting promotions. On the 13th of November 2003, he made the difficult decision to leave military service.
The 57-year-old says adapting to his new life was very difficult: “I struggled for a long time. I did go through periods of getting depressed and I did do quite a bit of drinking and my weight went up to 21 and a half stone. I was just abusing my body. I didn’t know how to fit in.”
I was institutionalised. You were told where to go, how to get there, when to get there, what to wear. Your meals were all there. Suddenly it was there you go, there’s the door. No matter what they put in place when you actually get out of the gate, there was nothing. It was a very, very hard transition”.
In the meantime, Nobby’s injured ankle wasn’t getting any better. After leaving service, doctors discovered there were 14 pieces of bone which had broken away from his ankle-joint, leaving him in considerable pain. He then underwent years of bone grafts, fusions and ankle replacements.
Then they discovered the bone around his ankle was crumbling.
This proved to be the last straw for him: “I worked it out. Out of 10 years I had spent about five years in plaster and on crutches or in hospital having operations”. He made the huge decision to have his leg removed.
Despite this life-changing operation, Nobby says he’s in a better place: “Going from taking about 30 different pain killers and anti-inflammatory tablets every day, to just taking two on days that I need them. That was the biggest thing. Just being off the meds has changed me.”
He says support from his fiancée Abbi and his seven children, Toni 25, Chloe 17, Ben and Jamie 14, Tyler 16, Storm 12 and Zara 11 made all the difference: “My family that told me ‘You can do it. Even though you’ve now only got one and a half legs. You can do it.’ I thought if they believe in me, perhaps I can.”
Since the operation in October 2017 he’s already had two prosthetic legs and he’s about to get another one: “For your first 18 months your leg is constantly shrinking. I’m due to get my third leg now. So it’ll be approximately every six months. From there I don’t know. It might now be that I’m at a stage where it’ll only need replacing through wear and tear.”
Physically things have changed though. He says what he used to take for granted he can no longer do: “I can’t physically get into the bath anymore. I have to use crutches to get to the shower, then it’s a hop and a grab to get in.”
And this is an ongoing issue: “I’ve had problems with my left knee and a few weeks ago it gave way and I went down and landed on my stump and ended up back in A&E.”
There are still days when that I can’t put a leg on. Because with heat and sweat the leg gets inflamed and it gets so sore you can’t put it on and it blisters. Then I have to go back in to a wheelchair. It’s not something I enjoy doing. But I look at it as a temporary thing.”
While serving in the Royal Navy, Nobby was a huge sportsman: “I was Navy decathlete, cross country for the county, I played rugby, refereed and coached rugby and then got to a point where I couldn’t do anything.”
Thanks to Abbi, he found Help for Heroes, joining the Plymouth Recovery Centre’s wheelchair rugby team, Endeavour. He says thanks to the support and camaraderie he found there he hasn’t looked back: “I’m back doing wheelchair rugby, cycling – it’s all there. The world’s opened up again. It’s given me back what I wanted to do.”
Now living in Cornwall, he’s planning a trip to America to represent the UK in the 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa in Florida: “It has given me a new lease of life 100%. I found the old me again.”