Crippled rugby star undertakes an odyssey on a hand-cycle

Published: December 19, 2009  |  Source: heraldscotland.com
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He will complete the equivalent of a marathon every day – powered only by his arms.

When David Millar was paralysed in a rugby match 20 years ago, doctors told him he would need round-the-clock care for the rest of his life.

The Scotland Under-21 cap has proved them wrong and is now setting out to help others in their own journeys to rehabilitate after serious injury by embarking on an epic journey across New Zealand using a hand-cycle.

Mr Millar, 42, hopes that the 250-mile journey he has dubbed “The Mighty Push” will raise thousands of pounds for spinal injury research and charity Hearts and Balls, which supports injured rugby players.

He’s expecting a tough time: only half the journey will be made by road. The rest of his journey will mean tackling gravel and dirt tracks, powering himself by only his arms on his hand-cycle.

He said: “This will be an enormous challenge for me. I will be completing a marathon each day of the campaign. The longest cycle I’ve achieved in one day so far is 13 miles when I did the Great North Run in 2006, so it’s going to be tough.”

His odyssey will start at the Burwood Spinal Unit in Christchurch in April 2010, where David was initially treated after his injury while spending a season playing rugby in New Zealand. He will then cross the Canterbury Plains, navigate the Lake Tekapo canal system and finally take on the Otago rail trail before finishing in Dunedin 12 days later. He has been in rigorous training for eight months, spurred on by a desire to help others with similar injuries.

“When I suffered my injury the thought of a cure was a distant hope and progress has been slow. However, a number of treatments are on the verge of moving from the laboratory to clinical trials and as such are close to achieving one of the holy grails of medical science – the repair of the spinal cord.”

Mr Millar was told that he would need 24-hour care after the accident that shattered his life. But he was determined to become independent again and spent almost two years in r ehabilitation, succeeding at length in regaining some movement.

Although confined to a wheelchair, Mr Millar is now able to live independently and works as a clinical neuro-psychologist at Newcastle General Hospital after gaining an MSc in clinical psychology from Glasgow University.

He leads an active life and is a keen sportsman, regularly sit-skiing, kayaking and even scuba-diving.

He added: “Unfortunately, my story is not unusual, the type of person who suffers a spinal cord injury, whether it is from rugby, horse riding, skiing, cycling or simply driving a car, is typically young and active.”

Educated at Merchiston in Edinburgh and Jordanhill College, Mr Millar has won the support of several high-profile sports stars. Olympic gold medal-winning Scots cyclist, Chris Hoy, said in a statement of support: “I’d just like to wish you the very best of luck for your cycle challenge in New Zealand. Stay focused on your goal and have the determination to carry on when it gets tough.”

Gavin Hastings, the former Scotland and British Lions captain, is also a supporter. “The Mighty Push is some challenge but knowing David’s strength and determination means that he will tackle this with the heart of a Lion,” he said.

“A Lions Tour doesn’t come close to what he is setting out to do in his quest to improve the quality of life for those who have been impacted by catastrophic spinal injury.

Jasper Hamill