Former Champion Jumps Jockey Brian Constable’s whole life changed when he lost his leg to septicemia last year.
Taking an entirely new direction, Brian is now focused on the road to the Paralympics. Quilly Park are proud to support him in his quest as an active sponsor.
Last week, Brian was interviewed by RSN’s Felgate for Racing Pulse’s Open Mic. We share some of the discussion here as we kick off a journal following the ‘new life of Brian.’
Seven years to septicemia
Brian’s injury came from a fall 7 years ago at Werribee that kept niggling at him and never managed to heal properly.
The infection came through one of the pin sites in the cast on his leg. When they came to take it off, hospital staff told Brian they’d keep him in for a few days, administer some antibiotics and he’d be ok.
From there, instead of heading home after a few days of care, he spent a long 7 months in hospital fighting a serious infection.
Septicemia occurs when a bacterial infection elsewhere in the body enters the bloodstream. In Brian’s case the bacteria and toxins were carried through his bloodstream and led to his whole body becoming poisoned.
After 7 months hospital staff told him, ‘We’ve done everything we can, you’re a very sick man. Your leg needs to come off.’
Brian reflects, ‘I signed a form, went straight into surgery and woke up a few hours later with my leg missing. It’s part of the journey of life for me I guess.’
Adapting to a new life
‘I had an inkling early on that something was seriously wrong. They brought me into it gently so it wasn’t a major shock. When they told me the situation I had thought about it a lot.
‘It’s taken a while to get my head around it but I am adapting. It’s inconvenient. I am an outdoor person so it’s curtailed what I like to do’, says Brian.
When asked by Felgate whether he’d struggled with the mental issues that face a lot of jockeys when they give up riding, Brian answered frankly, ‘I’ve been through some really dark times and felt pretty low.
‘When I stop and think about what I’ve achieved sometimes it feels like all I’ve come out of it with is one leg. I suppose it’s a minor thing compared to what other people I saw in hospital have to deal with.
‘My body is holding up really well. I’m fit now and things are going really good.’
The hard knocks of a career as a jump jockey
Throughout his career, Brian has sustained an impressive number of injuries including; several toes, 3 ankles, 3 knee reconstructions, 2 femurs, a hip, 3 spine fractures, a fractured neck, both wrists (one three times), multiple collar bones and a serious facial injury.
‘I really enjoyed it and I really miss it. It was a thrill, it scared me but was exciting at the same time. I could see a fence, put a horse at it and encourage the horse to jump it’, Brian said.
‘I’m learning to live with my prosthetic leg. I’m starting to run now, and learning to swim with it. I’m like a mini version of the road runner!’
Brian says it still feels like his leg is still there sometimes, something that amputees often say: ‘I was lying in bed the other night turning my left ankle left and right, then in my mind I was turning my other ankle left and right. It’s hard to explain. But I do get a lot of pain from it not being there’.
Tony Kneebone sets a challenge
It was racing personality Tony Kneebone that decided Brian needed a goal: ‘Tony Kneebone is a good friend of mine. He came in to see me not long after my amputation and came up with the idea for me to become a Paralympian.
‘He said ‘You’ve got no leg so you qualify, you can ride a horse so you tick that box, now you just need to do the rest’.’
Brian shook on it and sealed the deal with, ‘Ok, but you’ve got to back me up.’
Paralympian’s don’t jump!
When asked what was involved in his Paralympic quest, Brian answered: ‘I’m out there doing dressage of all things. I assumed that I’d be jumping and would nail it.
‘After a couple of weeks they told me there was no jumping involved as Paralympian’s can only do dressage so I’m dancing around in a ring now’.
Mastering the art of dressage is a long way from the skills required for race riding. It’s certainly presenting Brain with a challenge, perhaps the toughest he’s had to face yet: ‘I find it really hard and am waiting for the enjoyment to come along. I’ll stick to it though.
‘I go to rehab twice a week. Most days between hospitals and doctors appointments I ride at the equestrian centre, perhaps 3 or 4 times a week, less at the moment as I don’t like the cold.
‘I’m chipping away at it as a long term project. You can’t rush these things.’
Listen to Brian’s full and frank radio interview on RSN here, including an insight into how the boy from Industrial South Auckland got involved in racing to become one of the best jumps jockeys that Australia has seen.