How Sheffield man Ross has battled back from a horrific crash in Thailand and hopes to compete at next Commonwealth Games

If you think you’re busy, try being Ross Davidson.

Saturday, 5th June 2021, 4:45 am

This 27-year-old wheelchair basketball player is training for the Commonwealth Games, working full-time at a special school and running a camper van business.

Ross knows he’s taken on a workload which occasionally proves over-whelming. You wonder how he copes, dividing his time between three such demanding projects. “It’s a lot to handle and can be too much,” he admits.

But being busy is one way Ross, who lives in Sharrow, Sheffield, copes with the daily challenges he tackles.

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The challenges began on a fateful night when he crashed his motorbike while travelling in Thailand.

His right leg was injured and he suffered infections to the point where Ross opted for an elective amputation. He was just 23. It was devastating for a young man on what he thought was the trip of a lifetime.

“It’s still a struggle,” Ross admits.

“Early on, learning how to live a life with a disability, it is still something I’m learning to do every day. I suffered from depression for a year. I tried to find ways to get rid of that, but they were bad ways.”

Born in Belfast, Ross was fortunate that his background of playing rugby meant his story got out and he was noticed.

“After eight months, I was found by Disability Sport Northern Ireland. They had read I played rugby and a wheelchair basketball coach asked me if I wanted to try out.

“That’s the best thing that happened to me, it saved me from a lot more severe depression.”

Now he trains at the EIS, plays for the Sheffield Steelers wheelchair basketball club and wants to be in the Northern Ireland team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

It’s some way removed from the young Ross Davidson who dreamed of being a firefighter. “I was part of the fire cadets until I was 18. Before I had my amputation I was gunning for that.”

So back to the trip to Thailand which changed everything.

It had started as a dream, with Ross saving to go travelling by working in the famous Crown bar in Belfast. He headed for Pai, a destination much loved by travellers who want to find themselves. “That’s why I went,” Ross says. “To get away from stress. I planned to stay and work there.”

One night he was due to meet friends in the middle of the jungle and headed off on his motorcycle. “I was riding and I didn’t see the road properly because it was so badly lit. I hit a tree and ended up in hospital.”

Ross is able to talk about it because he asked for help. “What I’ve learned most about myself is not to be scared to ask for help from people,” he says.

“That applies to anyone who is struggling with anything that causes distress or them to be disadvantaged.

“It is important people find help whether it's through the NHS, privately or via sport. I’d really urge people to seek a sport they can be passionate about that can relieve them from the stresses of life.

“I have struggles while I’m doing what I’m doing and it helps to have a good group of people around who can support and counsel you.”

He’d like to be a counsellor in the future because he values their work. “I don’t find it easy to reach out but I am actively doing it. It is important to ask for help when you’re struggling.”

His early struggles after the crash were eased by wheelchair basketball and he played for Belfast Knights. Ross was enjoying it when the travel bug bit again. By this stage he had a prosthetic and was walking, so he could drive.

“I couldn’t travel like I used to, it would be too physically demanding so I came up with the idea of a camper van and it worked as I got to Italy and Switzerland,” says Ross.

“I felt like I was where I was before the amputation.”

He got to Cologne in Germany and sought out the wheelchair basketball team who offered him a chance to play. Ross also contacted his coach, who recommended the Sheffield Steelers instead as the GB wheelchair basketball Academy is based in the city.

So Ross headed here to train with the Steelers and the Academy when the pandemic struck.

“Everything got put on hold, which happened to so many people. It started off the depression again and I found it difficult to be motivated.

“What helped was that I didn’t stop working.”

He supports young adults with learning disabilities at the Greenacres special school in Barnsley in a project called Opening Doors. “It’s life skills like crafts, sport, exercise, to keep school leavers and college students active.”

He is also currently studying for a BSc in Psychology and Counselling which complements what he does in Greenlands five days a week.

That on top of two basketball sessions a week.

So this is an ideal day for Ross. “I enjoy working at Greenacres, doing a few van rentals and getting to the basketball when I can.”

He knows this must change and after August he will focus on getting into the Commonwealth team for the Birmingham games.

“Competing at the Commonwealth Games is my short-term goal and would be absolutely incredible. I wouldn’t be able to believe that I got there and the fact that this is the first year with a Northern Ireland team in it is special.

“It would mean more to be in the first squad to actually compete in the Commonwealth Games. That’s what it would mean more than anything – being somebody who is part of a landmark in the sport. It’s going to be exciting.”

He works closely with top coach Phil Robinson in Northern Ireland, who is guiding his pursuit of the tournament with the clock to the Games ticking.

Ross is financially supported by a partnership between Entain – owner of Ladbrokes and Coral – and SportsAid. The funding allows him to divide his time between Sheffield and home – and he reckons a jam-packed schedule can be a recipe for success.

“To be able to train as much as I can, I live between Sheffield and Northern Ireland and travelling back and forward,” he says.

“The funding goes towards flights in order to maximise my training so I can get coaching here and back home.

“Me being able to fly back home once every two weeks, or hopefully every week if I can afford it, would mean I could get those extra sessions in with Phil as much as possible.”

The hopefuls have monthly camps in Northern Ireland as Ross and 10 others aim for five spots.

“When people have your back and see potential in you, that makes you feel really good about yourself,” adds Ross, who is treading the same SportsAid pathway as ParalympicsGB stars Dame Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds OBE.

“You forget that people are there for you, watching you and supporting you and you don’t even know it, so it’s brilliant.”

An obsession? “It’s a massive thing to be in that squad,” he nods.

The other massive thing for him is travel, which is how he got involved in Camper Van rentals.

He owns a VW Westfalia called Cherry which he has spent £18,000 adapting including a new engine, solar panels and everything new underneath.

There is still a vintage element as the bodywork retains the classic look. It is certainly proving popular and is rented out for this summer via his business Cherry Tales Travels.

“When I travel, I get so much joy and happiness out of the van, just the freedom of travelling around.

“I’ve met people who have become basically nomadic and it opened my eyes to the potential of adventure, finding yourself and de-stressing.

“That’s what it did for me so I spent money kitting the van out and it is now worth more than I’ve spent on it.”

He aims to have four vans and employ staff to run the company. “My pride and joy is my vintage VW camper van,” he says. “I bought it two years ago as having to use a wheelchair completely changes the dynamics of travelling. I adapted it for myself so I could drive it – and I was able to travel as freely as I did prior to having a disability.

“Fast forward a year and a half on and I’ve found a lot of people want to take on my camper van. I’ve put a lot of investment into it and had it completely refurbished to make adaptations for amputees. It’s a little side project but something I want to expand on – a little company that runs itself.”

But Ross accepts this idea may have to wait. “It’s a slow burner, I’m a bit too busy!

“The business will have to drop down the priorities after summer so I can focus on basketball and studying.”

Whatever he does, you know he’s going to be busy.