When Tim Smith broke his back in an horrific accident playing rugby for Horsham he feared he would struggle run freely again, let alone complete a marathon.
But just a month after finally removing his back brace he had signed up to the Brighton Marathon, and in April of this year, remarkably he completed it, just 18 months after the injury left him with a crushed vertebra in his spine.
“Completing the marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, well apart from the months of rehabilitation getting over my back,” said Tim, 34, who has lived all his life in the town. “To be fair it was a stroll for 14 miles until I hit a wall and from there it was agony. I’d set myself a target of four hours and I came in in 3hours 56mins and finishing it was the best feeling because I felt I’d really earned it.
The decision to run the 26.2 mile race started some two years before, when laid up in Worthing Hospital and almost unable to move Tim joked to friends and family he would do a marathon if he recovered sufficiently.
“I had to keep to my word,” Tim said. “To be fair running was one of the only forms of exercise I could really do. At first just running around Horsham Park took me forever and was so painful. But once I was able to actually run things got easier and having the marathon in mind kept me going and was something to aim for.
“But because you have to enter for the Brighton Marathon early I had register for it only about a month after I’d finally taken the back brace off.”
That Tim would be able to run at all was far from a certainty when his excruciating injury occurred.
Playing for Horsham Seconds in a league match at neighbouring Norfolk Arms, he burst into a ruck only for a team-mate to plough into the back of him, immediately sending him into agony.
“I’d injured myself before so I knew instantly it was a bad one,” Tim recalled. “The only way I can describe it was like being winded, but also the muscles in my chest and back went into spasm to protect the spine. At first I couldn’t feel my legs so that was a truly scary moment.
“The worst thing was when the ambulance got there I couldn’t breath so I couldn’t even take in gas and air to help the pain. It was only five hours later in the hospital that they gave me injections and the spasms finally stopped.”
An X-Ray confirmed one of his vertebra had been crushed, and for a whole week he was in hospital unable to move.
Tim then had to wear a back brace for three months, and then for another month he was unable to do any form of exercise at all.
He says running helped him to come to terms with being told he should never play rugby again. Having raised more than £1,000 for local charity Homestart - a family support charity in Horsham and Crawley - along with friend Ben Redman and step brother Doug Wright, Tim now runs three times a week and is planning to continue running marathons and half marathons in the future.
Tim still has problems with his back which he will always have to manage. But although he can no longer pull on the green and white of the club he had played for since the age of five, the former scrum half is now Horsham RFC’s First Team manager and is enjoying a successful season motivating others from the sidelines.
Tim has credited his girlfriend Kelly Lamberty and his family as playing a crucial role in his long road to recovery.
Homestart are looking for people to run next year’s Brighton Marathon on their behalf. Those interested visit www.homestartCHAMS.org.uk or contact Gill Wright on 01293 416327.