Stockdale vows to return from broken neck for Olympic bid

British show jumper Tim Stockdale

Amid all of the British success at Olympia earlier this month, there one noticeable absentee: Tim Stockdale.

The Beijing Olympian missed the London International Horse Show for only the second time in 20 years after breaking his neck in training.

The 47-year-old show jumper sustained a triple fracture after slipping from a young horse he was riding on 17 October but has since made remarkable progress and was released from hospital in late November.

Stockdale is now plotting a return to the top of his sport in time for the London Olympics - a mission which will begin with training in February and competition from March.

But just how realistic is his aim of making the 2012 Games? The father-of-two talks through his "scary" experience and explains his Olympic dream.

THE ACCIDENT:

Stockdale: "I heard, 'Whatever you do, keep his head still' and, 'Try to keep him warm'. It was pretty disconcerting."

He was supposed to be on a regular scouting mission, trying young horses and testing their potential, when one caught his eye.

"I got on him and it was a little bit windy, rain was starting to come and whether something spooked him or what I don't know but he jolted out of the corner.

"Unfortunately my saddle hadn't been tightened and he slipped. As the saddle began to slip, I started to go to one side and the horse took fright and basically bolted.

"I was coming down near where the horses legs are. I was either going to go under his legs or hit the side and I don't remember anything more."

The show jumper briefly regained consciousness. He acknowledged the help of a fellow rider who supported his neck for around an hour and may have saved him from being permanently disabled.

He added: "Shrewsbury hospital was our first port of call. The doctor there felt my neck and, as he did, I realised I was in trouble. I have broken a few bones in my time and I knew, as he gently pressed, that there was something serious. I knew I was in trouble then.

"I was in a lot of pain all over my body and genuinely I was thinking, 'Well this is how show jumping finishes, this is the final chapter of my show jumping career'."

THE RECOVERY:

"I've been a nightmare!"

He freely admits to not always being the model patient at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire.

His physiotherapist Becky Dytor explained: "For someone who is so active, being told to lay still for five weeks can feel like torture, particularly in the first week after an injury where there is little movement allowed at all."

Speaking at the beginning of November Stockdale agreed. He said: "I've been a nightmare but it's nice that they're now saying I'm not too fragile. I can now move my legs and I do some light weights. That again starts to show you're on the road to recovery."

Stockdale was released from hospital at the end of November and made his first public appearance since the accident at Olympia.

He added: "In myself I feel great. I have a scan in early January and that will tell us how the healing is going on through the neck."

THE OLYMPIC DREAM:

"I'm a great fan of Rocky and those types of films - the adversity and all of that."

Stockdale, who made his first international appearance for Great Britain back in 1988, had to wait 20 years before he made his Olympic debut, which came when he formed part of the three-strong GB show jumping line-up for the Beijing Games.

They finished in fourth position and narrowly missed out on a medal, something Stockdale would love to rectify in 2012.

Speaking from his hospital bed, the Northampton-based show jumper said: "Every sportsman's dream is to reach the pinnacle of their sport and for us the Olympics is part of that.

"It [reaching London] would be absolutely fabulous, fantastic. You talk about against the odds, or adversity. To get on the Olympic team from where I am today seems like a long way away, but it's not beyond the realms of reality."

Now out of hospital and having rediscovered his passion, Stockdale is plotting a competitive return by March - in time for Olympic qualification.

"I think sometimes as a sportsman, when you've done it [competed] for a few years, you sometimes lack that motivation to keep getting up and going to competitions.

"Something like this is the ignition to doing better and overcoming something serious. If anything it has only lit the furnace."

You can follow Tim Stockdale's progress on the BBC's British Olympic Dreams programme which airs monthly until London 2012.

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