Northern Ireland

Jonjo Bright: Paralysed jockey speaks about efforts to walk again

Jonjo Bright
Image caption Jonjo Bright lives on his parent's farm and is trying to learn how to walk again following his horseracing accident in 2013

A teenage jockey who was paralysed when he fell from a horse during a race has spoken about his efforts to walk again.

Jonjo Bright was 19 when he suffered a serious spinal injury at a competition in Tyrella, County Down, in March 2013.

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show that he did not want to listen to doctors when they told him he had little chance of walking.

He said his refusal to accept it helped his recovery and he has since regained some limited movement in his legs.

The amateur jockey was just starting out in his career when he was thrown from a horse at the Tyrella Point to Point competition.

He told the programme that he knew immediately something was wrong, as his body felt like it was covered in concrete as he lay on the track.

"Your first reaction whenever you fall is to nearly half curl up into a ball just to make sure you don't get kicked or anything and that was the first time I realised," he said.

"It nearly felt like... everything was concreted to the ground, bar my head. Everything was just stuck."

The injury was very high up his spinal cord and he was initially paralysed almost from the neck down.

"I couldn't lift my arms, I could just about shrug my shoulders," he recalled.

Exoskeleton suit

Jonjo has since embarked on an exercise regime and has regained movement in his arms, limited power in his leg and can wiggle his toes.

He has also been able to take thousands of steps with the help of a powered exoskeleton suit.

He describes the suit as a "wearable robot" that he is strapped into during his training regime.

"It will sit me forward and stand me up and allow me to walk and take steps," he said.

"Slightly over 2,000 [steps] in just over an hour is the best I've been at so far, so I'm getting faster all the time in it."

Image copyright Jonjo Bright
Image caption The amateur jockey was just starting out in his career when he was thrown from a horse

Jonjo said his refusal to think negative thoughts or to accept doctors' diagnosis have helped his efforts to recover.

"I wasn't listening to them," he said.

"Looking back, there's a lot in what they said that is obviously right... but I think when something that bad happens to you, at times you nearly need to be a bit ignorant to it and just think 'I can prove this wrong'.

He added: "I needed to, because if I listened and if I absorbed everything I was told I would have gone mad."

'So grateful'

The young jockey lives on his parents' farm and has paid tribute to the help and support he has received from his family and the horseracing industry.

"I don't think there is any other sport in the world that looks after their own like it.

"I literally was an amateur jockey just starting off, I actually wouldn't have called myself a jockey.

"I have been treated like I'd been a jockey for years and I'm so grateful for that.

"They've put me, and continue to put me, in the best possible position to get what I can out of [my recovery], in terms of looking into the future, staying in the best shape that I can."

He added there were many "exciting" scientific developments happening at present in the field of paralysis research.

"If I don't keep myself in the best possible shape, then any treatments in the future would be no use."

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