From digging graves & fighting fires to targeting the Paralympics

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'Wheelchair curling has given me va-va-vroom'

"I just remember shouting loudly at my legs, telling them to start moving."

Former grave digger David Melrose was finally fulfilling his childhood dream of being a fire-fighter when his life was radically changed.

The then 44-year-old was part of a retained crew attending a blaze in his home town of Duns in the Scottish Borders in 2010 when he was struck by a falling steel beam. His back was broken.

The dad-of-two was left paralysed from the waist down, but Melrose discovered that wheelchair curling gave him a way of regaining some kind of normality. He is now on the British Curling programme and is targeting the Winter Paralympics.

Here, Melrose tells BBC Sport Scotland about the night his life changed, the moment in the shower when he realised he was paralysed, and having to "train" his bowels and bladder.

'My knee popped sideways. I remember thinking 'that's gotta hurt''

Melrose worked on a farm for many years before taking a job with Borders Council as a grave digger. But he had always wanted to join the fire service and when changes to the legislation allowed people with type 1 diabetes to apply, he signed up with his local crew. The night of his accident was not particularly unusual, but a chance for Melrose to do what he had always longed to...

The pager went off about 5pm on 7 July, 2010. It was some buildings down at Eyemouth golf course. I live close by and was there within about five minutes.

I was deployed with the hose reel to work our way up to the biggest shed and we got to this steel door. I walked up to it with a wrecking bar but realised I wasn't going to be able to opening it. I took one step back and I have this vivid memory of my head getting forced forward. I was looking down at my boots and my right knee popped away sideways. I just remember thinking 'that's gotta hurt'. But I must have passed out for a few seconds because the next thing I remember is six firemen grabbing a corner each of my suit and carrying me away.

I was in excruciating pain and shouting and screaming at my legs, which weren't moving. I knew I couldn't feel my feet or legs. I remember an ambulance technician saying 'his veins have collapsed and I can't get any drugs in'. I got airlifted up to the Edinburgh Royal and the whole time I was passing in and out of consciousness. Every time I woke up I'd be shouting at my legs. When I got to hospital, I remember my family coming in and me breaking down and apologising, but I wasn't too sure what I was apologising for.

Duns retained fire crew
David Melrose (top left) was part of the retained fire crew at Duns

'I didn't realise I was paralysed until I fell in the shower'

Melrose was transferred to hospital in Glasgow. Dosed heavily with drugs, much of it was spent in and out of consciousness with his wife Clare, daughter Leigh and son Nathan by his bedside. The steel beam had broken the T12 vertebrae in the base of his spine and he was paralysed from the stomach down. Complications with infections meant he was confined to his hospital bed for four months and it took a long time for the council worker to realise the full extent of his injuries and how they would impact his his everyday existence.

I always remember I went to get a shower and fell out of my chair. My brain was shouting at my legs to move and they didn't and I ended up in a crumpled lump on the floor. I was laughing my head off when the nurses came in. They asked what I was laughing at and I said "I'm paralysed". From that moment on it's been trying to do what's best to survive.

I got back to work about eight months after I was discharged but I don't think you really appreciate until you come out how great an impact it has on you. It's not just that you can't feel from your belly button down - your bowels and bladder don't work and you've no control over them. You can't feel what's what so you spend a lot of your time getting into a routine and training your bowels and bladder. It's not just as simple as jumping out of bed into your chair and you're off. Your whole day focuses on set routines before you even get into your chair. It's hard work.

I had a picture of my wife and kids beside my hospital bed. I looked at it every night and every morning and thought that's what I had to get back to. The kids were 14 and 12 when the accident happened and they probably did without their father for that year. My wife picked up everything so I didn't have to worry and she came up every single day.

'In the early days you're just surviving... but now I've found curling'

David Melrose

After a lifetime of playing sport, Melrose was eager to find an outlet for that passion. He tried golf and badminton but found neither did it for him. Then, four years ago, he was offered the chance to try out the sport that has changed his life. But curling is no longer just a hobby for Melrose, who reached the final of the British Open in 2016. Now he now competes alongside the likes of Sochi bronze medallists Aileen Neilson and Robert McPherson, and Hugh Nibloe, who made his Paralympic debut in PyeongChang. In October, the 52-year-old made his Scotland debut at the Stirling Wheelchair Curling International Invitation event and now has his eyes on Beijing in four years time.

I watched these guys on TV and then found myself having a coffee with them, having a meal, and now I'm playing with them. They have been really, really helpful. They've got the patience to understand that it's a huge commitment to reach the level they are it. I've been on the British Curling programme for a few months and I never really appreciated all that was involved to play at the highest level.

Growing up, you always dream about someday being able to play for your country. It's an unbelievable feeling. When I first went on to the British programme they asked "what are your aims" and they all said they want to represent GB. I said I want to play for my country. I want to play for Scotland. Just to feel that pride and joy knowing you've done it.

In the early days after an accident, you're surviving, you're not doing anything productive. But now that I've found curling, it's giving me a drive. It's the buzz, I can't think of another way of describing it. I get annoyed when I'm losing, joyful when I'm winning, but it's just being normal again. But at the same time, it's such a surreal world I'm living in at this moment in time.

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