London: The London Marathon has long been a celebration of human courage and determination but this year’s event will feature an extraordinary display of bravery.
While most runners ‘hit the wall’ at around 20 miles (32 km) into the 26-mile (42-km) race, former boxer Michael Watson will hit his after just five minutes.
Twelve years and six operations after he collapsed in a coma during a world title fight, Watson is able to walk again. But the legacy of his brain injury is paralysis of his left side, meaning his left leg swings outwards when he walks.
Yet he plans to complete the course, taking six days, and his achievement will rival anything produced by the able-bodied marathon winners. “I know I can make it, I’m raring to go,” Watson said. “In a way I feel... that the past ten years have been for a purpose, engineering me for this task.
On September 21, 1991, Watson faced Chris Eubank at London’s White Hart Lane. At the end of the 11th round he was caught by a left hook from Eubank and fell backwards, catching his head on the lowest rope in the ringside.
The fight was stopped in the 12th round and Watson left the arena on a stretcher. He was in a coma and on the verge of being certified clinically dead.
“I didn’t predict that he would survive,” Peter Hamlyn, the neurosurgeon who operated on Watson, said. “Then having survived there was no prospect that he would regain consciousness or walk. That he has done all of this is amazing.”
Watson spent 40 days in a coma and had half of his skull removed to relieve pressure on the brain. He was taken to a neurosurgical ward where most patients spend two weeks. Watson spent four months there.
“At the beginning he had a very serious brain injury and came as close to death as I have seen,” Hamlyn said.
He was eventually moved to a rehabilitation ward and at this point he was still unable to sit up, swallow food or speak. He eventually left hospital in a wheelchair and was never expected to walk again.
It has taken the remaining 11 years for him to recover to a point where he can think about joining the marathon. Hamlyn believes that Watson only survived because he was so physically fit at the time of his injury.
“He still has problems with memory and moving the left side of his body,” Hamlyn said. “But he has the same determination as he always had.”
For the first time since the injury Watson has been walking or training in the gym everyday and he has spent the last week at a retreat working on his final preparations. (Reuters)