My name is Will. I was 13 and things were going great.
I was getting on well at school and loving my dinghy sailing. It was Easter and I went on holiday to France with my family. That’s where life changed forever. I had a haemorrhagic stroke, totally out of the blue and was rushed to hospital. From there it was like I fell down a deep dark hole.
I was repatriated to Great Ormond Street Hospital where I was diagnosed with Cavernous Malformations in my brain. These funny raspberry-shaped things had bled and caused damage to my brain and epilepsy. Even worse, I needed brain surgery.
Things were grim, my whole life changed. Everyone was stressing and I was told there were so many things I wouldn’t be able to do, swim, cycle and even worse, sail. I was devastated!
I spent about three months recovering from the bleed and getting used to all the epilepsy drugs. It was the new normal. I couldn’t get over not being able to sail and my world was very dark.
I was assigned a specialist nurse and she worked really hard to get people to consider my return to sailing. First, she approached the sailing club and with some convincing, I was allowed back on my boat.
I’d always dreamed that I would be able to sail something bigger but we were convinced that dream was over. No one was going to consider someone with a brain injury and epilepsy, or so I thought.
Mum approached Tall Ships Youth Trust (TSYT) and shared my story. This was really difficult for me because I feel that I’m often judged on my diagnosis rather than my ability and that sucks! But they didn’t. They heard me and after working with my medical team, they took a chance. This was life changing.
On the day I arrived I expected people to faff around me, make a fuss (like people tend to do!) and be all stressy about me doing stuff. But honestly, from the moment they arrived they talked to me, not my parents, and welcomed me just like anyone else. It was so good to feel normal and part of the team. I had a blast! It was so much fun and I learnt so much.
I left the week-long adventure with my RYA Competent Crew qualification, a whole new positive view on life and the offer of coming back as a Watch Leader. Not only did they believe in my ability, they thought I was good enough to support others. It was like going from darkness into light and it gave me a new purpose.
I went on to have brain surgery at Great Ormond Street and my TSYT family sent messages of support and checked in throughout. Three months later I was well enough to come back. Another five-day break on TSYT’s 55ft ketch was just the motivation I needed to get back on my feet after surgery.
Tall Ships Youth Trust has given me a direction when I thought my life was pretty rubbish. They believe in me! And I can’t wait to share what I’ve learnt with others.
Sailing is the freedom from my challenges and TSYT empowers me to ‘sea beyond my horizon’. ?