'˜You've got to make things happen yourself'
When David Williamson was born with no shin bones, his parents had to make a very difficult decision.
Metal pins and endless operations with no guarantee of success, or amputation of both legs.
They chose the latter because they believed it would be better for David.
Now he looks back on a lifetime love of playing sport and wants to inspire others to believe they too can live their dreams.
As the country is gripped by inspirational performances at the Paralympics in Rio, David believes it’s the perfect time to remind everybody that they can achieve if they work hard and believe in themselves.
He ended up captaining Portsmouth Sitting Volleyball Club for eight years and was even invited to train with the GB squad before the Paralympics in London in 2012.
The 37-year-old, of Shadwell Road in North End, Portsmouth, had his legs amputated when he was less than a year old.
He says: ‘My folks had to be realistic. They could have tried to put metal pins in to replace the bones.
‘But with technology at the time, I would have been in and out of hospital all the time having them changed.
‘It wouldn’t have been a childhood at all. And it might not have worked – the chances of me walking on them were very unlikely.’
Fitted with artificial legs, he went on to play football and golf.
But there were problems to contend with.
He recalls: ‘Pretty much every week my mum would get a phone call saying that I had broken my legs again.
‘My artificial legs were old-fashioned and heavy and painful to wear. But my mum would encourage me to wear them as much as possible.
‘There were a number of children who used to go to the Limb Centre at St Mary’s Hospital.
‘There were children there who were crying because their legs hurt and their parents let them take them off.
‘But the more you got used to them, the more you could do, which is why I could play football and golf and go horse-riding.’
David’s parents had difficulty finding a school for him.
He recalls: ‘My mum and dad were put under a lot of pressure to put me in a special school at the time, just because it was easier.
‘So my mum sat me down and taught me to read and write when I was little.
She really pushed me. At the age of six, I had already read The Hobbit.
‘She felt that she had to prove I was more advanced to be given the same opportunities as everyone else. That stuck with me.
‘She shipped me round all the schools in the area and none of them would take me.
‘They were worried if I fell or hurt myself they wouldn’t be able to cope with it.’
Eventually, David and his mum ended up at Ranvilles School in Fareham.
David explains: ‘The headteacher said to my mum: “What happens if David falls over?”.
‘My mum said: “He will probably whinge for a bit, but if you leave him alone he will get up eventually”.
‘It was just about not pandering to the disability. It was about accepting it.
‘My mum took me into class, took my legs off and said: “This is David. He hasn’t got any legs. Any questions?”.
‘That removed any of the mystery, suspicion or concern.
‘Through the whole of school I was never bullied.
‘It was about facing it full on and dealing with the problem.’
He adds: ‘The kids were great. They learned that if I fell over they shouldn’t help me up. I wanted to do it myself.
‘Going to Ranvilles was a big part of everything I’ve done.’
When David was 11, his parents split up and he moved to Chesterfield in Derbyshire to live with his mum.
He attended secondary school there and didn’t move back to Hampshire until he was 16, when he went to live with his dad in Fareham.
He studied A-levels at Fareham College.
During his time in secondary school he had fallen out of love with sport – but at 16 he started to play wheelchair basketball.
Then in 2008, at the age of 29, David found out about a sitting volleyball club in Portsmouth.
It was set up by a couple of people who went to the Amputee Games being run by the charity Limbpower.
David says: ‘When I was very little my folks were very determined to get me playing sport.
‘That was a big thing. But when I got a bit older and I went to university, I stopped.’
When David heard about the sitting volleyball club, he decided to give it a go. He ended up as captain and played around 220 games at home and abroad.
His skill at the sport led to him being asked to train with the GB squad.
He then watched proudly as the team beat Morocco at the Paralympics.
David recalls: ‘That was amazing, to see the people I knew win a game. That was a really good day.’
Many people will have watched the Paralympics and taken inspiration from the incredible athletes and the performances.
So what would David say to anyone who would like to succeed at sport?
‘I think it’s important people ask the question “why not?”. I’m not that athletic.
‘I firmly believe you can achieve anything you want to but just wanting it isn’t enough.
‘You have to put the effort in. You’ve got to make things happen yourself.’
In recent years David has taken part in a number of challenges for charity.
He has done the Great South Run three times, firstly for Children With Cancer UK and then for Willow’s Vision Appeal - raising money for a little girl who is registered blind and has cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus.
He says: ‘Earlier this year I also did the Willow 24 event, where I pushed myself around Lakeside at North Harbour for 24 hours.
‘Then there was Manic Marafun, where the idea was for 27 amputees to complete a mile each in a relay to raise money for the charity Limbpower.
‘But I felt it had given me so much that I offered to do the whole marathon alongside everyone else. ‘
Earlier this month, David also took part in a marathon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, birthplace of the Paralympics.
To support David, please visit justgiving.com/fundraising/David-Williamson37.
To find out more about the charity Limbpower, please visit limbpower.com.