United Kingdom

Once paralysed rugby star ED JACKSON reveals fiancee who nursed him dealt him heartbreaking new blow

The heart-stopping conversation with my fiancée Lois came three months after I had been discharged from hospital.

It was a weekday afternoon in October 2017 and the two of us were living with my dad and stepmum, Sue, at their large, modern house near Bath. 

With its wide doorways and flat floors, it was easy for me to get around in a wheelchair and, since Sue was a personal trainer, it also had its own gym where I was doing up to 12 hours of rehab a day.

I was intent on making as full a recovery as I could from the injuries I’d sustained when I’d dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool and hit my head on the bottom. 

I’d been told I was unlikely ever to walk again but by the time I left hospital 80 days later, I had regained movement on the right side of my body.

The left side was still much weaker and walking was possible only with the help of a ‘functional electrical stimulation’ (FES) machine, which contracted the muscles in that leg and raised the foot. 

I still relied on crutches or walking poles but Lois and I were due to get married in Tuscany the following summer and I was determined to get down the aisle without either.

Always by my side: Ed Jackson with fiancee Lois enjoying a beach holiday 

‘Ed, we need to talk,’ said Lois, and I went cold as I registered her tone. Something was very wrong.

‘I went to see a therapist today,’ she said. ‘It was about us. I’ve had some worries for a while.’

I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. This couldn’t be right; we were fine. Strongest couple around. Everyone said so.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said as she saw my worried face. ‘The therapist said I had to be more honest with you.’

Oh, God. She hadn’t . . . she couldn’t . . . when would she even get the time? She was always here . . .

Slumping back into the sofa I said: ‘Who? How long. . ?’

‘Oh no, Ed!’ Lois said. ‘It’s nothing like that. I wouldn’t do that, you know I wouldn’t.

‘It’s just that we’ve been together for years, a really tight couple, but also very independent of each other. It just worked . . . And it doesn’t feel like that any more.’

‘Things will get better Lois,’ I reassured her. ‘We’ll get back to how we were before.’

She stared up at me. ‘That’s the thing, Ed. I don’t think they will. I’m having to get used to being engaged to a different man. Everyone thinks we’ve returned to normal, but it’s not normal for us.’

My heart hammered in my chest as I scrabbled to understand what she was saying. I couldn’t be that different . . . could I? ‘How have I changed?’ I asked.

‘Your priorities have changed,’ she said. ‘You don’t seem to know what you want for yourself. Rugby used to take up so much of your time and that has just gone.’

I took a moment before daring to ask my next question. ‘Are there other ways I’ve changed?’

Lois swallowed and dipped her head. ‘Physically, you’ve changed. You’ve lost loads of weight, which was so sad to see. I know it sounds really shallow, but it was who you were. You worked so hard to get to a place where you were confident with your body.’

These were the words I had feared the most. I’d known that I wasn’t the big, strapping professional rugby player any more. But to hear her say this hurt more than I’d imagined.

It was true, I had changed physically. Lying on my back for the best part of two months had meant I’d lost all the muscle I had spent a decade building. I couldn’t get it back either; I didn’t have the strength to work out in that way. So what did that mean for us?

Ed and Lois got married in Tuscany, Italy in July 2018 

I took a deep breath. ‘Do you not find me attractive any more?’

Tears formed in Lois’s eyes. ‘Yes, of course I do,’ she told me. ‘The accident showed me how much I love you. How strong our bond is. I just need to find a way to get used to the new Ed.’

I paused for a moment before pulling her into my arms. She didn’t resist and curled up against me. If it was possible, I loved her twice as much in that moment. I had never been one to talk about my feelings, and neither had Lois. We just got on with things and tried to find the fun side to life.

I suppose that’s where we were tested — there’s limited fun to be found in re-learning the things you first conquered when you were two, or watching the man you love change beyond recognition.

We did it, though. We tried to make the daily tasks as light-hearted and interesting as we could. But that light-heartedness couldn’t fix everything.

Part of the problem was that Lois had been reluctant to tell me how she was feeling. She thought I had enough going on without her adding to it.

‘This is the lightest I’ve felt in months,’ she said that night. ‘Just being honest with you has taken this weight away from me.’

I watched her as she closed the curtains. ‘I didn’t know. I hadn’t the slightest clue that you were keeping everything inside. You were always so cheerful.’

‘I suppose I felt it was my duty to do that. You had enough going on without me adding to it.’ She held her hand out to me. ‘But no more secrets.’

'Eventually, I decided not to use my wheelchair in the house any more, and stumbling around with crutches meant that I often had falls'

We agreed that from now on, we would always talk to each other when we couldn’t deal with something by ourselves. 

But while our relationship went from strength to strength from that point onwards, there were many other challenges to come.

Eventually, I decided not to use my wheelchair in the house any more, and stumbling around with crutches meant that I often had falls. Sometimes it was poor timing on the FES machine lifting my foot, at other times just general lack of balance.

I was too young for this and the feeling of being accelerated into my 80s got me down, until one dangerous tumble which brought my face within inches of the sharp edges of a coffee table and left me with an aching shoulder.

Immediately afterwards, I was due to chat to a woman who had contacted me via the Instagram account I’d set up to document my progress. Her husband had recently sustained a spinal injury and I’d promised that I’d talk her through what they were facing.

It was the first time I had done this and by the time we’d spoken for two hours my mental outlook had shifted. No longer did I feel aggrieved with my situation. 

As my anger was replaced by calmness and a degree of perspective, I realised that I’d had my first taste of the power of helping others.

From then on, it became apparent to me that happiness was like a cup: some things I put into it quickly evaporated; but others kept it filled for much longer.

I even made a list of what things in my life had the longest-lasting effects and decided that I needed to move away from things like video games (fun at the time but no real happiness left over) and eating takeaways.

The amount of time and money I put into these activities didn’t produce the rewards that came from those higher up my list, like seeing friends, walking the dogs and spontaneous hugs from Lois.

At the top of that list was helping others. I decided that the best way to do this was raising money for the charities that had helped me, including Restart, which supports professional rugby players and funded much of my physiotherapy once I left hospital. 

At the same time, I wanted to test myself, so I planned that in April 2018, just before the one-year anniversary of my accident, I would climb Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and England. With £20,000 raised in sponsorship, all I had to do was make it the ten miles to the top.

As I limped across the car park where the hike would begin, holding on to my trusty walking poles, I saw what looked like members of a coach party streaming towards me.

Ed Jackson of Wasps during the LV= Cup match between Northampton Saints and Wasps at Franklin's Gardens

‘Ed!’ one of them called out. I turned but didn’t recognise him. He waved at me, as did some of the others. It was then that I realised that they weren’t a coach party after all — they were people who had heard about what I was doing and had come to support me. I was incredibly humbled.

While Lois went ahead with others from our fundraising group, I began my ascent with my physio Wyn and my friend, Josh, and I stopped staring at my feet every few hundred metres to take in the view. 

The lush, green landscape whipped up into the snowy peaks of the mountain range, and up ahead the shallow tidal water of the Menai Strait curled its way into the distance. As this vast natural horizon stretched in front of me, my boundaries felt limitless.

Putting my head down again, I carried on, one foot in front of the other, my body beginning to ache with the strain.

Things began to get a bit more serious when we reached the snow line. Thick fog had descended on to the peak. Gone were the spectacular views and we were warned the paths up ahead were treacherous with compacted snow and ice.

On we climbed, and the group thinned out as several of our party gave up and skidded their way back down.

The doctors at Southmead Hospital in Bristol had previously told Ed he was unlikely ever to walk again, and at best might regain use of his arms

By now, I could see only a ten-metre circle around myself. I had to keep going; turning back wasn’t an option as the route down would be just as fraught.

It began to snow. The flakes swirled around us; we could only see five metres in front of us , but on we went. Right foot forwards, left leg sliding behind.

Finally, after seven hours, the sound of applause drifted through the fog. I had heard the summit before I could see it.

‘Come on!’ my friend Rich shouted from the top. ‘What took you so long?’

Through the falling snow was the outline of my whittled-down group. They were perched among the other climbers who had made it to the top. Once they saw me limp around the corner, all of the climbers who I didn’t know joined in with the cheering, too.

I had been pretty confident that I would make it to the summit, but I hadn’t been sure of my reaction when I got there. It wasn’t until I turned to Lois, the wind whipping her hair across her face, that I realised this wasn’t just about climbing a mountain.

‘Congratulations,’ she said, reaching up to kiss me on the cheek. ‘I knew you would do it.’

‘Thank you,’ I responded. ‘For everything.’

I couldn’t have done it without her and that July we were married in the gardens of a Tuscan villa, just as we had always planned.

Rich was my best man and, with him walking close by my side, I made my way along the uneven white gravel path leading to where the ceremony would take place. 

From there I was on my own, and I walked down the aisle by myself, without the use of a crutch or walking pole.

My heart swelled with pride when I saw Lois approaching on her father’s arm, radiant in a long veil and a tight-fitting silk dress that suited her to perfection. As we turned towards the registrar, the months of pain and uncertainty were all worth it, just to be there with her, the woman I loved.

Ed sits in a wheelchair with a neckbrace on as he is comforted by his boxer Molly 

Soon afterwards, Channel 4 offered me a job as a reporter for the forthcoming rugby season.

A longside giving motivational talks, this helped pay my bills as Lois and I set up Millimetres 2 Mountains, a charity named after my own recovery experience.

In October 2018, I climbed Mont Buet in the French Alps, a peak three times higher than Snowdon. The following year I went higher again, climbing Mera Peak which, at 6,500 metres, is the highest trekking mountain in Nepal.

The trip was to raise money for a new spinal unit there. By far my longest and toughest challenge, it involved walking for 15 days, and there were times when I wondered whether I could go on.

Ignoring the wind attempting to freeze the skin on my face and the headaches I got from the altitude, I eventually got to the top with the unfailing encouragement of others in the group, including Rich.

A year of planning and dreams culminated in that moment. I was the first quadriplegic to summit Mera Peak and I’d achieved something I’d never thought possible, even when I’d been able-bodied.

It felt like I was standing at the junction between the sky and the Earth and, as the sun hit my face, I closed my eyes.

In my mind I went back in time — back beyond Snowdon, back to the hospitals in Salisbury and Bath, back to a speeding ambulance and finally back to the poolside, where I watched my younger self kicking off his shoes, about to dive in.

Would I stop him? Would I tell him not to take those next steps?

No. I wouldn’t change any of it. Without that ten-second incident, my life would not be as it is now.

Through my accident I had found purpose, and that is what everyone needs — to lead a fulfilled life; not riches, power, an able body or an exceptional mind.

I realised that I never really had this before the accident — and the perspective I had gained from nearly losing everything, and the satisfaction I got from helping others, had led me to accept and even embrace my injuries and their outcome.

With the right mindset, it doesn’t take long to accept the past and start looking forward to the future, and I hoped that others would take courage from my story and apply it to their own lives.

Someone called my name and I blinked, opening my eyes. The wind picked up and whipped around the peak of Mera.

I knew how lucky I was to be there, but it was time for us to climb back down again. Back to my new life — one I wouldn’t swap for the world.

Adapted from Lucky: From Tragedy To Triumph One Step At A Time, by Ed Jackson, published by HQ on August 5 at £20. © Ed Jackson 2021. To order a copy for £17.80 (offer valid until August 8, 2021; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit or call 020 3308 9193.

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