Friday, 10 July 2020
A FORMER international rower is hoping to inspire other people with a brain injury by telling his life story.
Nick Davis, from Emmer Green, has been a client at Headway Thames Valley, which is based in Greys Road, Henley, since 2009.
The 58-year-old suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle crash 40 years ago, which put him in a coma and left him disabled.
He was also diagnosed with brain and kidney tumours in 2006 after suffering a seizure. He had surgery to remove the tumours but has problems with his memory and uses a wheelchair and walking sticks.
Mr Davis, who lives with his mother, Jennifer, has been working with Freddie Wilson, a young film-maker from Rotherfield Greys, to produce a short film about his life.
This was to be shown as part of an exhibition in the community gallery at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley before the venue was closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will now be staged once the lockdown has ended.
Mr Davis experienced huge success as a teenage rower, winning gold for England at the home countries international at Hyde Park in 1977 and representing Reading Rowing Club at Henley Royal Regatta in 1980.
Then he suffered serious head and neck injuries in the first of two road accidents.
The first happened in September 1980 as he was driving a car on the Henley road near the Playhatch roundabout.
Mr Davis recalls: “I got to the roundabout and a car came head on. I swerved to avoid it and went off the road and hit a substation. I went through my car windscreen.
“I had a fractured skull and fractured vertebrae in the back of my neck but I was only in hospital for a short time.”
At the time, he was doing a three-year apprenticeship with a sheet metal firm in Caversham.
A few months later, he was riding a motorcycle in Tilehurst when he collided with a car. He came off his bike and landed on his head.
Although he was wearing a helmet, he suffered a brain injury and was in a coma at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading for six weeks. He was also left with restricted movement in his arms due to trapped nerves.
During his recovery, Mr Davis joined Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead District Sports Association for the Disabled and regained confidence through swimming. He also spent 18 months as an inpatient at Rivermead Rehabilitation Centre in Oxford, where he rediscovered what he calls his “sporting prowess”.
Mr Davis says: “My arms were in spasm and I was struggling to straighten them. I couldn’t even use a wheelchair properly. I would just use my left arm and my feet to drag me along.
“They operated on my right arm and it took a long time before I could use it again. With perseverance, they got me to a point where I could do things on my own.
“I went there on Sundays and used the swimming facilities and as my arms freed up I was able to get quicker and quicker.”
He went on to represent Great Britain in national championships and in 1988 set two disabled swimming world records for the 50m and 100m freestyle events.
He was also due to compete in the Paralympics in Korea that year, only to be told his event had been cancelled at short notice due to a lack of competitors from other countries.
He returned to rowing with Marlow Rowing Club in 1990 as part of a new disabled squad and won bronze at the world championships as one half of the Great Britain pair.
He also competed in the disabled world championships in the Czech Republic in1993, representing Great Britian in the single sculls.
He continued to enjoy rowing until he retired in 2003.
Three years later, Mr Davis went to visit his brother Chris in Poole for Christmas and suffered a seizure.
He was told by doctors that he had a tumour on his brain and another on his kidney.
After undergoing surgery, he was left with poor balance so he now uses a wheelchair and walking sticks and cannot work.
Mr Davis says: “They removed the brain tumour but I had to wait before I could have a second operation on my kidney.
“After about six weeks or so, I went to the Royal Berkshire Hospital and they removed the kidney to make sure it was clear of any infection.
“I don’t think my family and friends would ever let me wallow. It was never an option — I had to persevere and get on with it.”
He has difficulty remembering things, which is why he keeps his many rowing and swimming mementos close by. These include
a scrapbook with newspaper articles, medals and his Great Britain tracksuits.
Mr Davis said: “My memory is completely shot. I can reel off this information because I have been over it again and again over the last 30 years. Having all of my certificates helps and it is proof of what I have done. It proves that I’m not imagining it.
“My short-term memory is the worst but it can be very unpredictable. It has certainly set me back.
“Headway is such a good charity with great staff. They understand the difficulties that we have all got.”
He visits Brunner Hall in Henley twice a week for a group activity and a private physio session.
Earlier this year, Mr Davis worked with Mr Wilson to document the story of his life through a short film.
This involved doing separate video and audio recordings and using his cherished scrapbook to recall his sporting successes.
Freddie, 19, who has won several awards at the Henley Youth Festival, was approached by the charity after staff read an article in the Henley Standard about his career aspirations. He is a former student at Trinity Primary School, Gillotts School and The Henley College. Freddie said: “We sat down and did a narration session and went through his life.
“It was quite open-ended for me — it could be five minutes or 15 minutes. Nick was the director, I was just there to do whatever he wanted.
“He has a very compelling story and it’s amazing what he achieved.”
Headway Thames Valley runs weekly art therapy sessions for clients and decided to stage the exhibition to show the type of work they produce.
As well as the film, it features paintings, sculptures and poetry based on the theme of “life after brain injury”.
Zoe Lane, the charity’s fundraising manager, says: “This project is about everyone’s interpretation and how they see their brain injury.
“For some people it might be that they struggle to remember things, or they have memories that are very important to them.
“Nick has had a very interesting life and this film is a different approach. We wanted to see different things and we wanted to make sure everyone contributed.”
Asked about his role in the exhibition, Mr Davis says: “For me, it might not make any difference. It has all happened and all I’m doing is telling a story.
“If it is a story that can help other disabled people get some inspiration about trying hard when times are tough that will be important. It is about what my story can do to help other people.
“Before this, I was never one to shout the odds or boast about my achievements.”
The charity is looking to raise just over £2,200 to support the cost of the exhibition and is keen to hear from local businesses who would be able to help.
For more information, email
Ms Lane on zlane@headwaythames
29 June 2020
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