"I’m a big believer that you should practice what you preach and for me that means living my life in accordance with my values of helping others, staying curious and not being afraid to show vulnerability. Hopefully by doing that it inspires others to do the same."
Ed Jackson is a former professional rugby player who played at the highest level for over 10 years.
Two years on from a serious accident that left him paralysed from the neck down, Ed is literally climbing mountains and wants to encourage others to never give up hope. Craig Maplesden caught up with the former Bath Rugby backrow to talk about perspective and positivity, plus a new resilience workshop for teens in conjunction with Bath Mindfulness.
Many thanks for taking the time out to chat to me. It’s a real privilege to chat to you, as I have followed your story for a number of years. Can I take you back to your youth and ask what sport meant to you growing up?
I can’t remember ever not playing sport. Initially it was swimming and tennis (Bath Dolphins & Combe Grove tennis club respectively) and I think my parent’s main aim for this was to tire out a large, energetic child! I remember always loving sport as I was reasonably co-ordinated, but it wasn’t long before I swapped the individual sports for team sports. Being from Bath that was cricket and of course rugby. Sport was always just something I did for fun and I never envisioned a career would come from it.
Sport is often described as a metaphor for life. What lessons did you learn about life, and yourself, through sport?
Initially I learnt that it’s more fun to play rugby when your bigger than most kids your age! However, I soon realised that genetics only gets you so far and that you only really get out what you’re willing to put in. As time went on, I also learnt a lot about teamwork, respect and resilience which are all traits I would like to think haven’t left me.
Many of our readers will know you were a professional rugby player whose career was cut short due to a life changing accident. Despite nearly dying, and then being told you would never walk again, your sense of perspective and positivity has resulted in you saying your are happier now as a quadriplegic than your were as a professional rugby player. Can you elaborate on what you mean by ‘perspective’ and ‘positivity’?
Often, it’s not until things are taken away that we realise their true value and I suppose I received a healthy dose of that when I had to consider never being independent again. As a professional rugby player, it would have taken a fair bit for me to feel truly happy; scoring a try, winning a trophy etc, now just being able to brush my own teeth or step over a curb does that for me. My life may not have improved on paper but the way I look at it does and that’s all that matters.
"For me it became all about staying present. Understanding that so much of what we fear we have no control over and will never come to pass. I learnt to let go of those things and focus on what was right in front of me in the moment, what could I do right now to move me a little bit closer to my goal."
You’ve completed some remarkable challenges, raising thousands for local charities, including scaling Mount Everest in four days ... on your stairs. Did you ever believe that when you were lying in a hospital bed, willing your little toe to move, that what you have achieved would be possible?
At that point definitely not, and some of the things I am lucky enough to be a part of I still can’t believe I’m doing! But I’ve come to learn that you never know what’s around the corner, especially if you keep putting yourself out there. As long as we stick to our values and are willing to try new things, then the worlds your oyster.
Tell us about the resilience workshop (pop up) you are involved in with Bath Mindfulness.
Myself and Serena Guthrie, who is a good mate of mine, were approached about an idea to help use our experience to create a resilience workshop for teens in Bath. Nicola is a leading Mindfulness expert, Serena is a qualified life coach, and I am an NLP practitioner and we’re looking to combine our skills to help give some of our local teens the tools that will be helpful moving through those formative years and into later life.
How do you use your experiences to help others conquer their mental health and self-esteem issues?
I’m a big believer that you should practice what you preach and for me that means living my life in accordance with my values of helping others, staying curious and not being afraid to show vulnerability. Hopefully by doing that it inspires others to do the same.
More specifically I also mentor others going through similar injuries but earlier on in their journeys, each spinal cord injury is different but there is always some learnt experience you can pass on as well as just being someone to talk to.
Click below to visit Ed's charity: Millimeters 2 Mountains
Click the book jacket to pre-order 'Lucky' by Ed Jackson
You can download and listen to the podcast 'Good to Walk' via your usual podcast providers.
Can ‘Perspective’ and ‘Positivity’ be taught?
I think they have to be learnt through lived experience and practice. It’s one thing to understand the principles behind Perspective and Positivity but it’s a completely different thing to be able to subconsciously utilise the effects of them on a day-to-day basis. So, the answer is yes, the methods such as reframing, gratitude journaling, reflection and value alignment can be taught but it’s only the dedication to practice them that will see real change.
We all know negative people and you have spoken before about a collective whinge (or Sapachino). How aware do we need to be of negative talk, thoughts and people?
In NLP we use a presupposition of ‘every action has a positive intention’, which helps reframe negative interactions and allows you to understand the other persons perspective from a more rational position which helps. Having said that I would also say that we should all look to limit the amount of negativity we interact with - both in the form of other people and content. We only have a certain amount of bandwidth to work with and if we fill it with negatives, we leave no room for positivity. Nothing wrong with a Sapachino from time to time though, we’re all human…..
You are living evidence of the power of positivity and resilience. Did the initial prognosis act as fuel to your fire in proving the doctors wrong, and is that competitive nature born or developed through your sport?
I think that there’s definitely always been a bit of a defiant streak in me since I was a kid, just ask my mum, however I’ve never been an overly competitive person, which might sound a bit strange coming from an ex professional sportsman. The drive came more from my support network and realising how lucky I was to have the life I had, the life I often took for granted. When I was given the prognosis, I realised how much I had to get better for and that was my main driving force.
When you are left with the situation you were in, how do you overcome the fear of the unknown? Are there steps we can take?
For me it became all about staying present. Understanding that so much of what we fear we have no control over and will never come to pass. I learnt to let go of those things and focus on what was right in front of me in the moment, what could I do right now to move me a little bit closer to my goal. I think that attitude was born from necessity, my mind defending itself, but the most well-trodden path for becoming mindful is through meditation, something I’m exploring but continue to be useless at…
We’ve spoken about negative messages, how important are focusing on positive messages?
To echo a previous answer…fill your head with positive things and it leaves less space for negativity. Surround yourself with positive people and treat others the way you would want to be treated, its infectious.
Are there any books that you read, or have read since, that have helped in your recovery or confirmed your own instincts?
Mans search for meaning: Victor E Frankle
The Obstacle is the Way: Ryan Holiday
Atomic Habits: James Clear
So what is next for Ed Jackson?
Well hopefully it’s going to be quite a busy end to the year…I have three trips away with the charity to the Alps, Iceland and Nepal. I am attempting to become the first quadriplegic to climb Mont Blanc with the help of Leo Holding and Berghuas. My book ‘Lucky’ is coming out in August, I’m working with Channel 4 on the Paralympics in Tokyo and I’m launching season 2 of my podcast ‘It’s Good To Walk’. Might need a lie down after that!