A DISABLED athlete who went on to become a world champion after recovering from serious injuries suffered in a car accident is setting his sights on the ultimate prize - a gold medal at the Paralympics in four years’ time.
Steve Judge was involved in a near-fatal road smash 10 years ago which crushed both of his legs, leaving him facing the prospect of never walking again.
But surgeons managed to save his limbs, and following months of gruelling rehabilitation sessions, the runner was able to compete in sporting activities again, going on to win gold at the Paratriathlon World Championships in New Zealand.
Steve, aged 39, who lives in Eckington, has now starting training for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, and said being successful at the event would be ‘the pinnacle’ of his career.
“The ultimate for me would be winning the gold medal,” said Steve, who trains for at least 10 hours each week and is a member of the Sheffield Triathlon Club.
But he added: “You’ve got to be careful what you visualise - if you visualise winning the gold then you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. I’m just going to give the best I can, and imagine myself crossing the finishing line exhausted and happy. That’s how I visualise it at the moment.”
Steve said he will be taking his preparations ‘year by year’.
“It’s been very tough and a long season but it’s paid off. After my accident I never thought I would run again, so I just want to run as often as I can, because I don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
Before the crash, Steve ran with the Killamarsh Kestrels and was an amateur rugby player in Doncaster, as well as working as quality manager for a plastics firm.
“When I had the accident I lost my job and everything else, really,” he said. “My life was turned upside down.”
Steve lost control of his car while driving near Crystal Peaks, and said the force of the impact caused the vehicle to bend in half, trapping his legs in the process.
He was in hospital for five weeks initially, but took a full two years to recover from his ordeal.
He had to learn to stand and walk again after being wheelchair-bound.
“Being told I would never walk again encouraged me to prove them wrong and push myself,” Steve said.
“I wanted to prove that this accident had not ruined my life. I wanted to be better than I was before the accident. I already had cycling times and running times, so I competed against myself and did a lot of training.”
Doctors needed to replace three ligaments in Steve’s left leg with pig ligaments, and fitted a prosthesis on his ankle to correct his balance. His right leg also required painful treatment to force it back into shape.
“It looks quite horrific if anyone sees it, but I can stand on it and obviously run with it,” he said.
Steve initially took part in events such as charity runs, but missed competitive sport, and took up the paratriathlon in 2009.
Earlier this year, he scooped the title of British champion, and last month won gold in the TRI Three paratriathlete category at the World Triathlon Grand Final.
He completed the 300 metre swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run in one hour, two minutes and 55 seconds.
Steve’s category refers to athletes with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, multiple limb paralysis or disabilities in both legs.
“I pushed myself to the limit and gave it my best. It was an amazing feeling sprinting for the line, hearing the crowd cheer and the announcer say that I was the world champion,” Steve said.
“As I crossed the line, I grabbed the finish banner with clenched fists and shouted my delight before I was unable to hold back tears of elation, exhaustion and relief. “The medal ceremony, and seeing the British flag being raised and hearing the national anthem played in my honour, was amazing.”
Steve lives with his wife Ruth, 38, who works as a teacher, along with their son Robert, seven, and daughter Susannah, four. He is now a health and safety co-ordinator for Sheffield construction company Barlow’s, and is getting sponsorship with his Paralympic training from the makers of sports recovery drink Nourish Me Now.
The paratriathlon was not included in the 2012 Games. Steve said he was disappointed about missing his chance this year, but that he is determined to compete next time.
“Ever since my accident I have set myself goals which originally revolved around standing and walking again. Through my accident and rehabilitation I have learned to recognise the difference between facts and excuses.
“When I see an excuse not to do something, I convert that into a challenge.”