Rookie Driver James Russell reflects on his time with the team so far, and what it means to live with a disability.
2017 started out as an ordinary year for me. Back to work, looking for a new job and pretending I’m going to stick to my new fitness regime.
Whilst on Holiday in August I read an interesting article about a chap that lives just down the road from me in Clevedon. The story was about Chris Ganley who has the dream to compete at the Isle of Man TT motorbike race, despite only having one arm. As both a keen motorcyclist and a disabled person myself, this was of huge interest to me. So I decided that when home in the UK, I would follow it up to find out more.
Upon further investigation into Chris’ story I read about Team BRIT. A racing team comprising drivers with various disabilities. I could not believe I had not heard about this team before. Upon finding a contact number, I was on the phone to founder and CEO of the team Dave Player. 20 minutes later after having an informative and rather exciting conversation with Dave, I was putting in the diary a date to go and try out with the team to become a rookie driver. Excited is an understatement. The Rookie Day went well and I was asked to join the team, this really was a dream come true. I have now competed in five races for the team, including racing in Portugal. So I guess I am now an international racing driver.
Even though I have minimal experience racing cars, apart from the odd stag do outing on a go-kart, I have been extremely happy with my performances. I hope to be competing in the midfield or higher in the Fun Cup Championship in 2018.
I was born with my disability. A congenital defect to my lower right limb, meaning I have to wear a prosthetic leg. It has never stopped me. I have done and taken part in everything that I have wanted to, including playing full contact able-bodied rugby for my local team, Clevedon RFC. This included appearances for the 1st team which is one league below National League Rugby.
I never thought I would find the same team spirit and camaraderie as in a rugby team. But I have. Of course, I love the thrill of driving the car and pushing my limits out on track. However, as I prepare for race weekends, I also start to look forwards to meeting up with the team. There is a great atmosphere and bond between us. Maybe it’s because we are all disabled, maybe it’s because most of the guys are from the military, and with me being a rufty tufty rugby player, we have similar views on life? Whatever it is, it makes for a good fun relationship between us all.
As I said, I was born with my disability. And I am the only person on the team that was. So I feel a bit of a fraud. I know Ash Hall is jealous that I have feet. The other guys and Olivia have had something happen to them. An event that has changed their lives dramatically, forever. Two of the lads, Andy and Ash have lost legs from stepping on an IED in Afghanistan. Warren had a big motorbike accident where he sustained numerous injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, and Olivia, also had a motorbike accident, from which she ended up losing her left arm. I cannot express how much respect and admiration I have for all of them. To have gone through such a life changing experience and get back to a place on the other side where we can actually make fun out of each other’s and our own disability.
Indeed the first time I ever met Andy Searle he got into the back of a car and he was sat behind me. As I got in the front and turned round, I asked him with a big smile on my face ‘have you got enough room?’ Andy, does not have any legs. The outlook they have on life is contagious and it certainly has made me appreciate life a lot more.
I think everyone with a disability has dark moments. I do. And it’s over little things. Like when I wake up in the morning, I HAVE to put my prosthetic on to get anywhere. Sometimes I do find myself sat there wishing I didn’t have to do this every day. But it’s made me who I am and I get up and get on with living. I suspect the other members of my team have similar or possibly worse moments. For that I take my hat off to them and look at them as really inspirational people.
This is only the start of the journey with the team. Next year is a whole season of the Fun Cup, and possibly opportunities to take part in GT racing. It’s a challenge, and one that I plan to tackle head on, just as I did in my 23 years of rugby. Sometimes it hurts and you get knocked to the ground. But you get up and carry on and there standing with you at the next challenge are your team mates.