Disabled Plymouth teenager vows to compete in Rio in 2016
AN INSPIRATIONAL teenager born with serious abnormalities to his legs and spine has defied all the odds – and is now appealing to the people of Plymouth to help him make his "dream come true".
Fifteen-year-old Ash Jackson, from Plymstock, was born with lower limb arthrogryposis.
The condition leads to a deformity of the legs and spine including a curvature of the spine, talipes – meaning his feet were back to front – a dislocated right hip and a fixed extension of the right knee.
His parents were told that Ash would never walk.
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But after 14 operations, nearly one for every year of his life, Ash has defied all the odds and astounded health professionals.
Now he is determined to become one of the country's next Paralympians in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
And local war hero Mark Ormrod, who had his legs and right arm blown off by a Taliban bomb, has vowed to help him.
Ash's mum Louise said: "After several operations as a baby we were told Ash would never walk.
"But on New Years Eve 2000, he took his first steps unaided at the age of three.
"It was amazing. We didn't push Ash to walk after that, we just let him do it in his own time.
"Then at the age of about six, he could finally walk without the use of a frame, albeit only small distances."
At the end of last year the teenager was told by doctors that he desperately needed another operation – or he would end up paralysed and bent in half for the rest of his life.
But Ash and his family were told the operation only had a 50 per cent success rate.
Louise said: "We weren't sure whether the operation would work or not so we had to have the house adapted for a wheelchair user anyway, with ramps and a wet room, in case it went wrong."
Ash travelled to Bristol's Frenchay Hospital in March this year, where he endured a 10-hour operation to de-tether his spine.
"I'd do anything not to be in a wheelchair," he said. "Although at first I was very angry, because I didn't want the operation, I knew it might be in my best interests.
"I was just scared I'd be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, stuck in the house with no girlfriend or social life.
"I was supposed to be bed-bound for six months after the operation but within a month I was walking with crutches, and in June I even went to watch Professor Green at the Pavilions, albeit in my wheelchair.
"The doctors were astonished by my recovery. I'm in less pain now and I can walk further.
"Although my life will never be normal, I am getting there."
Ash has always had good upper body strength since he was a young boy and regularly attends the gym.
But after watching this year's Olympic Games – and the amazing journey of ex-Marine Mark Ormrod during his 3,000-mile Tour de Forces cycling race – Ash has been inspired to take up hand-cycling and make his Paralympic dream come true.
"I met Mark last week after Mum contacted him on Facebook to see if he would give me some advice," Ash said.
"He's brilliant - I would never think of him as a triple amputee. He's just a man to me and an inspirational one too.
"He made me realise that there are a lot people worse off than me and the least I can do is make an effort to reach my goal."
After meeting Ash, Mark offered to lend him his hand-cycle.
But the teen, his family and Mark have now made a heartfelt plea to the people of Plymouth to help them raise the £5,500 needed to get Ash his very own cycle – and allow him to try out for Rio.
Mark said: "It's a great feeling to know I've inspired Ash to take up hand-cycling.
"I want people to get behind him and help him get to Rio. He could definitely be our next Paralympian, so lets get the Janner spirit going and get behind one of our own."
Ash described Mark as being like a big brother to him.
"He's looking out for me a lot and I was really touched when he leant me his bike," the youngster added. "It would mean everything to me to get to Rio – it would be a dream come true."