Written by Steve Clench
I always thought “Impossible is Nothing” was just the Adidas slogan and a saying my best mate would say when we were on a hard training block, but never thought it would be something I came to live by following a fateful day in 2007 that changed my life forever.
Best to start at the beginning I guess. I’d been at Uni in Loughborough on a scholarship from October 2006 studying materials engineering and training with the Team GB elite Under 23 triathlon squad. It came to that joyous time of year where it was exam season, following my first exam and having a 10 day break I decided to head home for a bit of down time and crack some revision. The first Friday I was home it was a lush day so I went for a ride with a good friend. All was going well for the first 2 hours and then we got to the fateful location that would change my life forever.
We turned into the top of murder hill (Hooe Hill) and started descending without issue, the hill then goes from a 10 to a 15% gradient, it was at this point my brakes failed.
I continued to accelerate and by the time I realized and tried to hit the deck I hit a dry-stone wall in excess of 40mph. The point of impact was my head followed by my shoulder and I bounced 10 feet from the wall. The car that followed us down stopped and the driver called the ambulance. My friend thought I was dead but luckily started CPR trying to get me back. The ambulance arrived extremely quickly and resuscitated me at the scene before rushing me to hospital. On arrival I was taken to resus and was checked over thoroughly with x-rays before being sent for further scans to make sure there was no internal damage. It was a miracle I hadn’t broken my neck.
It was touch and go as to whether I needed to go into an induced coma but luckily started to improve and was moved to ICU for observation. I was lucky to essentially walk away with minor physical injuries: Fractured Zygomatic arch, fractured jaw, broken collarbone, cracked shoulder-blade, 3 broken ribs and a hell of a lot of bruising.
Following a stint in hospital I was released home, I couldn’t remember anything from the day of my crash, so my mum took me for a drive around the route we’d been riding to see if it brought any memories back. It worked, I could remember the first 90 minutes of the ride, and then we got to the hill. As we were driving down and the hill got steeper, I went white as a sheet, felt physically sick and almost ripped a hole in the seat gripping on for dear life, safe to say it got to me.
We got home and I eventually calmed down and tried to see what else I could remember but to no avail. The summer continued and I started to improve, I started to get a bit more of a short-term memory and was a nearly functioning adult again. I had a meeting about returning to Uni having only done one exam in my first year and was accepted into my second year. Uni continued without too much of an effect from my crash and I graduated with a BEng (Hons) degree in Materials Engineering. From here I moved to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to start the commissioning course.
The commissioning course at Sandhurst is a 44-week course in leadership and military training. Broken down into 3 terms with each term building on the last. In my third week whilst on exercise I tore my hamstring, I was brought back from the exercise to start receiving physio in an attempt to keep me on track with my platoon. A week later I was told that due to the severity of the tear I would have to go to the Rehab platoon for the remainder of the term, I was gutted to say the least, and then I received the phone call I will never forget. I was told that my best friend had been killed whilst out on a training ride.
I was in shock, angry at the driver and felt guilty that I wasn’t there (if I hadn’t been at Sandhurst I would have been there). I was given a week off to help his family with all the arrangements and then a couple of days off to attend the funeral. I think this was the trigger for my flashbacks. Following my accident I had been so focussed on my recovery and proving everyone wrong that I hadn’t really thought about my accident or anything. Maybe it was the fact that I had a lucky escape and Nick hadn’t but whatever it was these flashbacks were happening. Every night without fail I’d wake in a sweat at the point I hit the wall. I couldn’t even remember anything past those 90 minutes I gained in the summer after my crash. So, I did what so many do and kept it to myself, I’d tell myself it’s normal, man up and crack on. This continued for the remainder of my commissioning course and beyond.
Fast forward to 2014, I’m married and have an 18 month old son, I’m a captain and working as the regimental Ops Officer, the nightmares are still there nearly every night and I’m snapping at people more and more including my wife and son. I mentioned the fact id injured my shoulder in the accident, well it had never been right since, ached all the time and especially painful when I swam which was the worst thing having grown up as a competitive swimmer etc. So, he sent me to Headley Court for an investigation into what is going on. After going through everything with them I was sent for several scans and discovered I had detached most of the cartilage cup in my shoulder (no wonder it hurt). I was also sent for an assessment with the minor traumatic brain injury unit, this raised several issues which I thought were just normal having dealt with them for 7 years so was admitted for a neuro review. 3 weeks of doing tasks and seeing occupational therapists I was diagnosed with a moderate brain injury but had adapted to compensate for them very well but explained a number of things that were going on.
They also investigated the flashbacks and nightmares and diagnosed me with PTSD and referred me to the department for community mental health.
I started attending appointments twice a week trying to come to terms with my accident and the death of my best friend. I started to learn these mechanisms and saw some improvements but the snapping had already taken its toll on my marriage, we were sleeping in separate rooms and we were arguing more and more, I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I was starting to snap again even at my little boy who had done nothing wrong. In 2015 I hit a real low point, I was still snapping and it seemed nothing I did was working. I snapped at my son for the smallest of things and he said “I don’t like daddy shouting” not only had it taken a toll on my marriage but it was now affecting my little boy.
I was already low, and this was like putting a claymore on whatever I had left. I tried talking to someone but I couldn’t get the words out, I felt weak and that I was a failure of a father snapping over the smallest of things and nothing was working and I seriously thought about ending it all. I went away for a “break” I took walking kit and a mountain bike under the guise of I was going to clear my head.
I was actually thinking of doing much more. Luckily a very good friend of mine saw me at a service station and asked to join me, we continued the trip and got talking over a brew somewhere in the Brecon Beacons, I broke down in tears on the side of the hill and unloaded everything on him, it felt like a weight had been lifted. We continued talking and he saw the tattoo inside my arm in memory of nick, “impossible is nothing” I explained where it came from and why, he pointed out the glaringly obvious that I couldn’t see; This may feel impossible now but it can be beaten. I got home and tried to fix my relationship with my wife and son. My son was the easy fix he was young enough he couldn’t remember a lot of it and was glad that daddy was back playing with him and not shouting. My wife said it would be best if we separated to see how that went. Two years of separation passed and we filed for divorce, the damage was unfixable but it was the best thing for all of us and our son in the long run.
Following our separation, I started seeing some improvements, I was snapping less and when I saw my son I wasn’t snapping, we were starting to have more and more fun together and he loved seeing me. I found a new girlfriend and things went from strength to strength, from the outset she knew about my accident and all the ugly things that had happened since and accepted them loved me unconditionally as well as loving my son too.
Since being with her I have had zero nightmares or flashbacks, I am calmer and feel like a better person. I am now very open about my mental health, it’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
When I’m having a bad day, when things are getting on top of me, I think back to those words “impossible is nothing” come up with a new plan to attack the day, reassess as many times as needed to come back out on top but never give up!
Steve Clench is a Captain in the British Army, he is also a former elite triathlete with team GB. Is a keen adventurer, and a father.