Just before Christmas last year (2017) we met an amazing author and adventurer called Michael McCarthy. Michael was at the Keele Christmas Fair with his father Brian, selling copies of his latest children's book Owzzatt!. It's a great set of stories of the adventures and escapades of two dogs, Woodstock and Churchill, but what really caught our attention were Michael's real-life adventures. Michael is registered blind, is hemiplegic and has learning difficulties, but that has never held him back! Brian tells his story below:
I was 14, running in the Lancashire Schools final. Coming around the final bend I was buckling, when I caught sight of my father leaning over the rail- he was screaming, “Come on McCarthy, push on!”
My father had never before shown such emotion. I knew he often watched me play football, cricket, run races; but always in the background, never making himself known to me or others. A quiet, unassuming person who would that day, turn me into a winner.
That one outburst of emotional support by my unassuming father was, unknown to him, a pearl of wisdom. It taught me that by supporting, believing and encouraging people to try their absolute best, all can achieve their best self.
Years later, for the school, run we did alternate days with friends; their two children and our two, Michael and Claire. Monday morning, having dropped our two off at our friend's house I return home; the phone rings. There has been an accident. Claire is okay. Michael needs to go to the hospital. No mobile phones mean the news is not instant. Wolverhampton hospital. Michael is immediately transferred to the neurological ward at Smethwick hospital in Birmingham.
The first report is that nothing can be done for at least two hours. Within the next ten minutes, Professor Hitchcock appeared, explaining he has sent a team to prepare for theatre. He couldn’t put a time on it, but he would come to us immediately after surgery. At Wolverhampton, a young doctor told me he had phoned Birmingham University to interrupt Professor Hitchcock’s lecture to tell him about Michael.
The professor came to us.
“I have done nothing but clear out the muck and rubbish from Michael’s head. He is in a serious condition. I’ll be back to see you within the hour.” And yes, he called back to see us, telling us to take it hour by hour. In my head, I was shouting to Michael, “Come on McCarthy, push on.”
Michael did push on, came around the bend, and he has won many races with medals galore.
Michael, still in a coma is being transferred to a new hospital. We are ushered by Professor Hitchcock’s registrar into a side room. He doesn’t smile, nor does he offer us a chair. Very serious, with no emotion in his voice, he tells us to find a suitable place for Michael, go away, and get on with our lives.
We leave with a polite thank you. That was never going to happen. “Come on McCarthy, push on!”
Two months later, Michael, semi-comatose was being encouraged to take a drink. Up to now he had been fed through a tube. “Say yes Michael if you would like this orange drink,” said Christine. He responded, “Say yes Michael!” The hospital erupted- nurses, patients, visitors and nurses not on duty- all came in to hear Michael speak. It was repetitive, but it was progress. We were on our way. The log that had been bumping along the bottom took a big jump. McCarthy was pushing on!
Michael, seven months later is in a wheelchair. His speech still repetitive, but eating solids and enduring painful physiotherapy. Liora, Michael’s physiotherapist had to treat Michael in the basement, Why? Because he was screaming so much he was scaring other patients!
Gradually the screams turned to grimaces of determination, willing himself to stand. Michael was pushing on, the graph was up with no dips, he was on his way.
Four years on at school, Michael, hemiplegic, is talking, registered blind and determined to win the sport’s day races. Nobody needed to lean over the rail screaming at him. It was in him, that steely determination to succeed at giving his best.
Moving forward, Michael went to Kenya, a six-week trip working with street kids, helping to build a school for them. He spent time talking to the kids, who lived on the streets of Nairobi, teaching them to play the card game UNO. He joined in buying food and eating on the streets with them. A humbling experience and a challenge that Michael took on with enthusiasm and commitment.
With a snow-capped topping, Mount Kenya was the next challenge ahead of Michael. He didn’t get to the summit but what he did achieve was to motivate others to continue. An Austrian family thanked him for pushing them up the mountain, they were ready to give up until they saw Michael going through the Bog section at 3,000 metres. Mackinders Camp is 4,200 metres (13,779 feet) Ben Nevis is 1,345 metres (4,413).
Michael finishing the London Marathon was an inspiration to many. Was he in the first 30,000? No, but he was a winner, giving his all to be his best self. His training schedule was one of self-discipline and desire to achieve.
Michael’s sporting achievements have helped him through life and inspired others to be their best selves. Winning a gold medal at the Midland’s Special Olympics was a highlight. Riding a tandem bike coast to coast and competing in a 24-hour bike ride from London to Paris were exciting challenges. He entered the Great North Run twice and has had seven children’s books published in between times!
Michael McCarthy has certainly pushed on from those dark days of uncertainty, to a full life, achieving his best self and inspiring others to do similar.
As well as writing books, Michael offers interactive sessions for schools and youth groups, to explain how his personal experiences can enable individual or team goals to be achieved. Email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.