Dylan Wade isn’t one for letting life get him down.
The Brandywell teenager has come through unimaginable trauma in his life, having been left paralysed after falling from a tree in St Columb’s Park in May 2016.
In the weeks that followed his devastating injury, Dylan underwent major surgery and was hospitalised in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for six weeks before spending a period at Musgrave Park Hospital for rehabilitation.
Just over a year later, in June 2017, Dylan, joined by a thousand supporters, including friends and family, took part in a 5k in his wheelchair.
The St Joseph’s Boys’ School pupil had been a keen runner before his accident. Wanting to continue to be a part of the running community and to take part in events locally, his teachers at school decided to fundraise to purchase a race chair.
On Friday past, in a landmark moment after months of fundraising spearheaded by teacher Emmett McGinty with support from teacher Graeme Doherty, Dylan got to use his very own race chair for the first time in the grounds of his school.
Supervised by Derry race chair expert James Divin, 16-year-old Dylan had his first taste of racing while his teachers looked on with pride.
“It felt good but I was exhausted,” said Dylan, during a break in classes at St Joseph’s earlier this week.
“I’d always been into running before the accident. I always found it a great way to clear my head, I think sport does that anyway. It’s a good way to stop overthinking. I’m glad now I’ll be able to train in the race chair.”
Teacher Graeme Doherty said staff at the school have been overwhelmed with support for the fundraising effort, which included gestures from former St Joseph’s pupil Shane Duffy, and even the donation of a shirt from Usain Bolt.
“Derry people are renowned for their generosity but it really was something else,” said Mr. Doherty
“It was a £5 entry fee for the 5k and people were donating way more than that on the day itself. In the end, we know it was the biggest 5k in Northern Ireland last year. It was so well supported and it was a great event for everyone, including Dylan himself.”
Dylan said he’ll never forget the number of people who turned up at the event last summer.
“I was completely overwhelmed. There were just so many people and I’m so grateful for everybody who supported me,” he said.
Last year, Dylan helped out at the finishing line of the Walled City Marathon. His goal now, thanks to his race chair, is to train and get to a point where he can compete in the marathon himself.
“It’s hard work on the race chair and I’ll have to practise a lot but I’m looking forward to it,” said Dylan.
While he’s looking forward to a sport filled future, the local teenager also has plans career-wise in an area which he feels is very important.
“I’d like to help people like me,” said Dylan. “I’d like to work with people who aren’t able to use their legs because they’ve had an accident. When I was in Musgrave Park I remember for the first week I didn’t come out of my room. There was another patient there called Dean Doherty. He brought me out and introduced me to people and we played a bit of pool. Before long we were all having a bit of craic just and that made a big difference to me.
“I think it’s so hard at the start when something like this happens. All of a sudden, I couldn’t use my legs anymore and I was worrying about the future all the time. It was hard at the start and I’d like to be able to help people who are going through that because I know exactly what they’re going through.”
Dylan’s now hoping to do a 5k, using his race chair, as part of his coursework for GCSE PE, alongside two other sports.
“Everyone in the school is very proud of him,” said teacher, Graeme. “Dylan has a quiet confidence and just gets on with things but he has inspired a lot of other students here at St Joseph’s.”
Dylan’s mantra is simple.
“When this happened to me, I had two options, either sit here and do nothing or get on with things. I try not to overthink things and take one day at a time.
“I’m delighted to have my race chair now and I can’t wait to get out on it,” he added.