In 2012 Old Blue Zach Washington-Young from the Class of 2008 sustained life changing injuries when he was involved in a terrible coach crash in 2012. Unwilling to accept his doctor’s diagnosis that he would never walk again, Zach remained determined to prove his doctors wrong. Challenging his physical and mental strength and demonstrating unrelenting hard work and determination, Zach has since regained the use of his legs. Now based in Barcelona, Zach took time out from his busy training schedule to share his inspiring story.
“When I left The Blue Coat School in the summer of 2008, I didn’t appreciate or even think about walking or running. I was a passionate football player and was very proud to have captained the school’s football team. When I was 22, I was involved in a horrific coach crash in 2012 and I lost one of my closest friends, Michael Molloy. I found myself being airlifted to Southport spinal injuries unit with ‘life changing injuries’ and my whole world came crashing down in an instant. It completely changed my life, my attitude towards friends and my future, but I will never be part of a ‘tragic victim’ story.
Following the accident I continued to be amazed by the friendship and level of support I received from the OId Blues community, most notably from Blue Coat teacher Mr Cox who made an incredible difference from the very start. Mr Cox helped to lift my spirits during months of very limited mobility and debilitating neurological pain, alongside the realisation that the NHS wanted me to come to terms with being in a wheelchair forever. For someone as young and fit as me that was a terrible future, one I just could not accept. Thanks to the huge support base of family and friends I found myself surrounded by, including many Old Blues, students, teachers and support staff, I refused to give in.
During my time in hospital I was told that I would be paralysed forever and live the rest of my life in a wheelchair. My injury was so severe that all of my doctors assured me there was no way any form of physical therapy or training could possibly activate my legs so they could move again, never mind to actually walk. Through constant research my amazing parents managed to find an exceptionally specialist centre in Cambridge, PrimePhysio.
After weeks of intense training in Cambridge I experienced the eureka moment we had all been praying for, one muscle in my left leg started showing the first signs of partial recovery. Over the next 12 months I travelled to Cambridge and things really started to develop. I made sure that I was 100% committed and focused on my training, ensuring that I put every last drop of effort I had in my body into each exercise or repetition I was asked to do.
Over the next two years my progress rocketed. My motto, “hard work & dedication” helped me progress out of my wheelchair and into a standing position. Six months later I walked for the first time with braces around my legs and with support from a zimmer frame.
In early 2016 I walked for the very first time with regular crutches, something I had dreamt about every day since the injury. Since that moment I have tried to set myself goals and targets, to increase the distance I can walk, the time I can stand for, the weight I can lift. My challenge this summer was to complete a 5 kilometre walk on my crutches, which I completed in 1 hour and 36 minutes.
I have just returned from Los Angeles where I again hit a HUGE milestone, walking for the first time completely unaided without crutches or support to hold me up.
I have also found time to swim and train with the British Swimming Team GB association and was fortunate enough to win the gold medal at the British national championships in 2014.
Nowadays I also consider myself a Triathlete having completed at a number of events and I am currently preparing for my biggest challenge to date, the famous Jean Bouin 10 kilometre race throughout the city of Barcelona, where I currently live and train full time.
The message that I hope to pass on is that with the right mind-set, commitment, dedication and work ethic, everyone is capable of achieving their goal as long as you believe in yourself. Four years on and after making such a success of what was once such a nightmare situation, I can confidently say that this is true.
As for the future? I now feel that through my story and success people in similar situations can feed off what I do and I have already helped in changing the lives of a number of people on similar journeys. I want to open a recovery centre in Liverpool and also open my own foundation which I raise money for by competing in long distance endurance challenges, and then use this money to allow other people in Liverpool to access such high level elite physical training like PrimePhysio, in the hope that one day they can see their lives come back on track and continue to fulfil their dreams and ambitions like I am doing right now.”
Mr Cox’s views on Zach:
“When I first encountered Zach in 2006 I was the new Head of Sixth Form and he was quickly flagged up as a young man who would need support to get through successfully. A ‘lively’ sixth former who got into scrapes, he was nevertheless a successful student who, I remember commenting, attained the same grades as me – in a completely different way. I was no bother, did everything on time, and never came to the attention of my Head of Sixth Form. The same could not be said of him! Some years after he left, hearing of his accident, I visited him in hospital and, having met regularly since, I believe he is one of the most inspiring, determined and positive former students I have ever encountered, or probably ever will.
From the start he recognised he was lucky to be alive, lucky to be able to move his upper body while the man in the next bed could only move his head and eyes, and this burning positivity has been incredible to witness. Watching his progress has been a joy to celebrate with other staff, and listening to him talk about difficulties – and how to overcome them – has often been awe inspiring and profoundly moving. That he travels the world, plunges in (literally now he is something of a swimming champion) and works round his issues is an inspiration to anyone. His determination to lead his life not defined by disability but determined to challenge it head on is actually an example to us all.”