Growing up, I was the middle child with a younger sister and an older brother. Whilst being the middle child, I’m clearly far different than anybody else in my family. Even in my extended family, it’s unknown who the last person is to have my limb-difference.
Psychology suggests that when you’re a young boy, you need an older male to look up to, either a brother or more specifically a father; somebody you can trust with guidance through trials and tribulations. Fortunately for me, I had both that in my father’s tutelage as well as my brother’s competitive drive and determination.
A lot of my memories from being little revolve around competition. I spent a lot of time off school with operations and with that, you get a sneak peek into what the adults get up to while you’re at school. What I remember quite specifically was watching very early MMA tapes in the afternoon with my dad as well as seeing him go to and from teaching and the weights room. This was a constant and something that I knew was simply part of my family’s way of life.
My brother, George, who is three years older my elder, began practicing gymnastics at the age of six and went on to be one of the best gymnasts in his age bracket in Britain up until stopping as during teen years, where he began delving further into MMA under my dad’s teachings.
As you can imagine, many of my childhood evenings weren’t spent around the sofa having movie nights. Looking up so much at my father and brother, all I wanted to do was be like them; physical, demanding and driven. I wanted to do gymnastics like my brother solely because he did it. I’d go along on sibling days and have wrestling matches into the foam pits – coincidentally where I learned my first backflip all by myself.
It sounds so recent, but disability was looked at in a much different light in comparison to 2016. It was almost disparaging. In wanting to follow my brother, it was a touchy subject because my parents didn’t want to dishearten me and I understand their thinking. I was never a cotton wool kid and learned many tough lessons very early on in life.
Seeing my brother develop his physique through gymnastics and my father through the weightroom and MMA, I wanted to be like them. There weren’t many times I really thought about my hand in physical aspects which always led me to thinking things like this. It gave me more to strive for but was something that brought so much confusion and figuring out along with it.
I began starting with sets of press-ups, but with the angles and length of my arms made it difficult for symmetrical reasons. I even thought, ‘screw it’ and started doing bicep curls solely on my left arm with the dumbbells out of my dad’s room, but quickly realised I didn’t want to have my already more frequently used arm growing exponentially faster than my right arm. I also had dreams of pursuing pro wrestling at the same time (before we finally diagnosed my neck issue), so lifting was key.
From single arm curls to resistance training with an big green elastic band around the bannister of the stairs, trial-and-error were prominent and by the time I was sixteen I was all out of ideas.
I always felt like, because I’m in a family of this style, I have to be physical and that’s served me so, so well through life, but stumbling time and time again to find my solution to lift weights was itching at me psychologically. Especially as at that age I’d been given the green light by my dad to really train in MMA in his gym instead of the few tips and tricks on the living room floor.
Now that I was doing MMA, I wanted to get bigger as I was the lightest and smallest in the room (spoiler: I still am, at least, the smallest) and being chucked around on wrestling nights was very much fun at the time. Naturally through vigorous training I did become stronger, but still things weighed on my mind.
My brother, dad and even old training partner, Paul Mellor, took me to the gym in their own time to figure out some adaptive techniques involving handwraps. They techniques worked temporarily, but were stretching my hand uncomfortably.
It wasn’t until I went to NubAbility Summer Camp for the first time in 2015 that I realised if there was ever a place to find an answer to my lifelong question, this would be the place. I stepped aside from coaching wrestling for an hour and went to speak with US Army veteran Jared Bullock and former stuntman Brian Zirkelbach – both proving more than happy to assist me in my queries and experiment with equipment.
They understood my anguish and showed me things that were so easy that I hadn’t even thought about. Both Jared and Brian instructed and informed me of what adaptive weightlifting equipment I could get my hands on and Jared even went as far as to give me his own ankle strap that he uses on his limb-difference, which was a true honour to be given from a man of that stature.
Since getting back from that trip, getting in the gym involved a lot of strange looks at first and a whole lot of experimenting. Six months down that road I began to find my feet with weekly exercises. Sixteen months on as I write this, I’m growing. I’m seeing changes, definition, a definite increase in strength and it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
At one point this discovery never felt possible to me, but through the ways of a trusty ankle strap and an adaptive dead-lifting hook, I’m well on my way and I’m not rushing a thing. My dad tried and tried to assist me and used to always say to me, “Harry, I bet if you could find something to lift with you’d be in the gym all the time, wouldn’t you?” Theoretically, my answer was always yes. Nowadays I don’t have an excuse.
If you take anything away from this, let it be that somewhere out there is the solution to your problem. Mine happened to take shape on the other side of the Atlantic. How far are you willing to go to find yours?