A recovery from hell: 25 years as a beneficiary of our charity, blind veteran Steve continues to inspire

30 November 2017 17:00

Through working with our Brighton Sports and Recreation team Steve and many other veterans receive much needed rehabilitation.

Blind veteran Steve Nixon and Louise Timms, Sports and Recreation Manager at our Brighton centre, have cycled in tandem through the South Downs. As the pair take on the steep hill towards the finish, former Royal Marine Steve recites a continuous stream of poetry. But for this cultured Marine, who served in 3 Commando Brigade, the poetry is spoken in Spanish, Greek and in English.

Injured during Operation Haven, the United Nations work for the protection of Kurds living in Northern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Steve joined our charity in 1992.

Photo of blind veteran Steve Nixon and Brighton centre Sports and Recreation Manager, Louise Timms on a  tandem bike

 He is a published author and in his book, Recovery from Hell, he writes of how he was almost killed during the humanitarian mission. Not expected to live, his parents watched as their son was given the last rights. It wasn’t his time and Steve fought his way back. He knew he’d recover as he was a Royal Marine to his core. During months of intensive rehab at the Brighton centre, Steve took inspiration from the other veterans he met there.

In Recovery from Hell he included interviews with them and he wrote of cycling in the London to Brighton bike ride, his first endurance event post injury. He has since gone on to complete numerous endurance cycling challenges.

Taking up his story Steve says:

“When I wrote Recovery from Hell I carried out the work independently, interviewing Ray Hazan, Billy Baxter, Sparky, Ray Sheriff and other blind veterans. I used one finger to type my book as I wrote my story of what happened and what was important to me, and each of those people was important to me, as was that first London to Brighton bike ride.

“I raised the money for a tandem bike as the one the charity had was old and it had a shopping basket. I’ve retired from endurance challenges, but over the last 15 years cycling with Louise Timms we’ve completed the London to Brighton bike ride and the Hove bike ride a number of times, and many other events.”

“When I lived in the North East I’d come down to the Brighton centre for weeks at a time and we’d train every day. Now practically every Wednesday Lou and I do a circular tandem ride from the Brighton centre, through the South Downs and back. We go out in all types of weather, often unintentionally!”

"I’m paralysed on my left side and cycling is extremely good for my fitness levels, but cycling up the drive of the centre is a killer."

Going up hills on a normal bike is extremely difficult but going up hills on this one is incredibly hard, it’s a nightmare. Sometimes you feel like you’re going backwards and you think ‘Are we going to make this?’ And sometimes we do go backwards, but we always recover. I enjoy the challenge of it and being outdoors in the fresh air.

“Louise is great. We’ve worked together for the last 15 years, but it feels more like 25! Before that I worked with Grant, her predecessor. Lou has encouraged me to do lots of challenges so, I’ve done 15 years of intense training.”

It is because of blind veteran Steve that Major General Andy Keeling CB, CBE, RM became involved with our charity as he was Steve’s Operation Commander on Operation Haven. It was a proud moment for both men, when on 7 May 1993, Andy presented Steve with his Gulf War Medal at the Brighton centre (shown in the photograph below).

Black and white photo of Major General Andy Keeling presenting Steve Nixon with his Gulf War Medal at the Brighton centre

Steve isn’t alone in finding inspiration through working with Louise and her team in the gym at the Brighton centre.

Full time instructors Steve Mills, Russell Scullion and Richard Phinbow are always on hand to work one to one or with groups.

Louise says, “Our gym is fully equipped and like any other gym we have aerobics machines, fixed resistance machines and free weights. As they have been adapted for people with a vision impairment and other disabilities we have tactile markings on the treadmills and different colours on the controls for people with some sight. We have wheelchair accessible machines as the idea is that anyone can use our gym.

"We facilitate for everyone whether you’re 95 or 25. In fact Henry Allingham used to come in here when he was 110."

“Local members use the gym, as do our residents and people here on intro, activity or themed weeks, so we’re busy every day of the week.”

“This year we introduced four group training weeks to get people together so you get camaraderie and peer support where they encourage each other during the week. We start the week with a range of fitness tests, which include jumps, runs, sit and reach, and a 500 metre row, which they all seemed to enjoy. Even though its five days you see the improvement. It’s perfect for people who are looking for a kick start to their fitness regime at home as we work out a plan they can follow when they leave the centre.”

Blind veterans using the various machines and weights in the gym at our Brighton centre
One part of the gym shows people on Fitness Week and the other people as they are trained to use the gym equipment.

Louise continues: “When veterans go home we’re still here to support them as they can contact us. So it’s not just when they’re here for the week, we provide ongoing support and then when they come to the next group fitness week we can gauge their fitness to see how they’ve improved. That’s something new and exciting that Steve, Russell and Richard have really got their teeth into. It’s not all about being in the centre because obviously people have classes in their own communities, it’s about introducing them to what’s out there once we’ve trained them in our gym.”

Two blind veterans using our Brighton centre gym arm pulley exercise machines
The Brighton centre’s fully accessible gym.

“We also work with people on their physical rehab, if they have an injury or have suffered a stroke. It doesn’t come up all the time but we put packages into place, working with local services and physios to support them on their recovery. That work means we have to be resourceful.”

"We obviously train people to achieve some extreme goals, but it’s equally important when we train people who want to dress themselves or to walk to the bathroom unaided."

“It’s about quality of life and maintaining activities of daily living and that’s just as important as running a marathon. We see the value in it, and also the social side for people who use the gym, as it’s a real social hub.”