Accompany Ben Clark, your ‘friendly neighbourhood quadriplegic’, on his Slow Ways journey through the sites of his dramatic and inspiring life story
Ben Clark, the inspirational Wheelchair Fitness Guy, wheels a Slow Way from Bournemouth to his home town of Poole. Along the way he shares the area’s many attractions and passes by the spot where he had an accident that changed his life. Join him on his video guided tour, or read the script below.
Hey everyone my name is Ben Clark and probably the first thing you’d notice if you met me is that I’m in a wheelchair. However that’s not always been the case as I acquired my disability almost 12 years ago. This route between Bournemouth and Poole we are taking today is very much part of that story and a place where my life changed forever.
My pre-injury life
My life has always been a bit of a rollercoaster. My family moved down here to the south coast when I was just one due to the recession and at four years old my dad committed suicide. This was really tough on us as a family but my mum was an absolute hero, working super hard all the time not just to survive but also to give us a great life.
Living so close to the water now my mum wanted to make sure both my sister and I could swim, so we got involved with the local swim club and found I had a real talent for it. This talent led me through my teenage years to a scholarship at a swimming school, national gold medals and eventually training in Australia with some of the best in the world with Olympic hopes in 2012.
My life-changing injury
On the 3rd of July 2010 I was home from Australia and was here on the beach at Sandbanks with a friend. It was a hot day and I wanted to cool off so I ran down into the sea and dove into a wave. Unfortunately it was shallower than expected and being a good swimmer I had a strong dive. When I hit my head on the sea floor the force was enough to compress and break my spine at C7.
In that moment my life drastically changed from training 30+ hours a week to spending the next eight months in hospital and now being a full-time wheelchair user. At first it was a big adjustment but mentally I was focused on getting used to my new body and wanting to get back into swimming. I even became national champion again in my classification.
From the outside it seemed I was doing okay but slowly over time the darkness crept in and I found myself deeply unhappy and lonely. This was when the true weight of what had happened affected me and what had brought me joy before (swimming) had now brought me to this dark place. This was an essential decision but I lost my identity with it as I had always been Ben-the-swimmer. Who was I now?
I knew I didn’t want that for myself so I decided to make the change in my life, to pull myself out and find a new passion in life. At this time I tried lots of new things but I realised I was trying to replace swimming with something else. I knew this could ultimately lead me to the same place as before so instead I shifted my focus and decided to concentrate on my values and see where that took me.
Discovering a love of coaching
After trying lots of new things I stumbled across my first swimming club and just asked if I could help in any way. They needed someone to run the strength and conditioning program and this had always been my favourite part of training so I asked if I could volunteer.
This was a huge moment for me as I realised that what I wanted to do was help others through fitness. The joy I got from helping others who wanted the same journey as I did actually brought me way more joy! My swimmers went on to win nationals and even get to the Olympics in Tokyo.
During this time I was looking for fitness advice for myself and found nothing online so I thought I’d create it myself. I bought a camera and started filming myself doing follow-along workouts for YouTube. This was just meant to be a small project but it has now absorbed my whole life, and Adapt To Perform has reached out to over 100k people all over the world.
Just after starting Adapt To Perform I met Alice and started dating. This soon turned into love and five years later we are engaged, with our wedding coming up in September. We love to travel and see what the world has to offer but for now this area here is home. We walk in Poole Park together almost every day, and it is now part of our combined history.
My story isn’t over yet and is just one of the infinite stories that are intertwined along this and other routes up and down the country. These routes are more than just points on a map or rocks and wildlife – they are our past, present and future. And it’s only by slowing down and enjoying the journey that we can truly appreciate it.
You can read more here about the accessibility of Slow Ways routes. Could you help survey and grade as you walk so that people with accessibility limitations of all sorts can be empowered to make their own decisions on using the network?
Ben was training for the Olympics when he broke his neck and found his true calling. As his Olympic dreams drifted away, they were replaced by dreams of helping others – especially disabled people – reach their fitness potential. Ben combined years of swimming knowledge, a newfound love of coaching, and his enthusiasm for strength and conditioning into a YouTube channel, Adapt to Perform. It provides workouts, yoga, mobility and mental health advice to anyone with a disability. Just after setting up Adapt To Perform, everything clicked into place and Ben met Alice, his girlfriend, soon to be wife.