On 7th January 1999, Aaron Phipps, age 15, contracted Meningitis C and Meningococcal Sepsis. To aid his recovery, the doctors decided to put him into a controlled coma for two weeks, but in March 1999, Aaron’s legs and most of his fingers had to be amputated.
One deadly complication of meningococcal infection is purpura fulminans, where blood clots develop in the bloodstream. These block small blood vessels and cause tissue to die. Therefore, patients with meningococcal septicaemia can lose fingers, toes, and entire limbs.
DS: Hi Aaron! Tell us about your childhood and your life before contracting Meningitis C? Were you always athletic and interested in playing sport?
Aaron: “Not really. I took part in a few sporting events at school, but I was more interested in extreme sports like skateboarding, BMX bikes and rollerblading.”
Aaron spent a year in hospital, recovering and receiving treatment.
DS: How did you cope after losing your legs and fingers?
Aaron: “The whole experience was overwhelming. I had to deal with getting my dressings being changed regularly and faced numerous operations. It was relentless. I did not realise the impact it must have had on my parents until I became a parent. It was the best and worst thing that has happened to me.”
In 2007, Aaron got involved in wheelchair racing and completed his first 10K race in Totton. He also began raising money for the Meningitis Research Foundation charity. He finished the 2008 & 2009 London Marathon, and in 2009 he was ranked as 4th UK male.
In 2018, Aaron was introduced to wheelchair rugby.
Wheelchair rugby is a mixed team sport for male and female quadriplegic athletes. It combines elements of rugby, basketball, and handball. Players compete in teams of four to carry the ball across the opposing team’s goal line. Contact between wheelchairs is permitted and is an integral part of the sport as the players use their chairs to block and hold opponents.
DS: Wheelchair rugby was monumental in changing your life; how did you discover the sport?
Aaron: “I was racing at the National Wheelchair Racing Track Championships, where I was approached and invited to try wheelchair rugby. I had no idea what wheelchair rugby was, so I went home and googled it. It looked brutal, so I was not convinced, but my wife Vicky encouraged me to give it a go. I wouldn’t say I was a natural at it, but I was quick and had the speed, so I put in the hard work to learn the rules and to develop my technique.”
Aaron was selected to be part of the GB Wheelchair Rugby team to compete at the London 2012 Olympics. After a 10-week intensive training camp in Florida, the GB team headed to London and narrowly missed out on bringing home medals by coming fifth place.
Aaron is not only a top-level athlete – he is also an adventurer.
On 23rd May 2016, Aaron became the first disabled person to scale Kilimanjaro.
DS: What made you decide to climb Kilimanjaro? It must have been gruelling; Did you use any techniques to keep your mind focused?
Aaron: “I had previously raised £250,000 for the Meningitis Research Foundation, so the charity approached me and asked if I’d like to climb Kilimanjaro. I said: ‘Yes, I’ll do it!’ before I even knew what it entailed. So, I googled it, and the rest is history. I kept focused and motivated by listening to loud dance music, which distracted me from the pain and that my knee pads were full of blood. When the terrain became tricky for the wheelchair, they suggested carrying me up, but I would not let them, and I continued up the mountain on my hand and knees. However, I did accept a piggyback ride back down part of the mountain after I had reached the top. My knees took a few months to heal after the event.”
Aaron is also a motivational speaker and visits schools, universities, and corporations.
DS: What inspired you to start motivational speaking?
Aaron: “It all started as a favour for a friend when they suggested that I speak at the local school. I put together a PowerPoint presentation about my life and spoke to the children at the school assembly. I was amazed by the feedback I received after my talk – they thought it was the most inspirational talk they had heard. They could not believe I had an admin job and suggested that I should think of doing it as a profession. It snowballed from there. I now do motivational speaking for schools, universities, and corporate businesses.”
DS: Your strapline is: be resilient and make positive choices. Why do you think this is important, and how do you think it can help the younger generation?
Aaron: “I like to focus more on the impact of making positive choices. We all tend to be caught up in our little bubbles and do not take opportunities as we feel safe in our bubble. But when we step out of our comfort zone, life gets interesting. If I had not have started wheelchair racing, I would not have got into wheelchair rugby and competed in the Olympics. If I had not said yes to climb Kilimanjaro, I would not have my story to inspire others in my motivational speaking. By setting goals, working hard, and remaining positive, you can achieve anything.”
DS: Congratulations on being selected again to be part of the GB Wheelchair Rugby Team – what a fantastic achievement! Is team GB looking at bringing a gold medal home from the Paralympics in Tokyo?
Aaron: “We did our best at London 2012, but unfortunately, we didn’t bring a medal home as we came fifth place. We have worked hard since then, and a gold medal is achievable. It will be close at the top between Great Britain, the USA, Australia, and Japan, but we will give them one hell of a fight for the gold medal. I leave for Tokyo in mid-August.”
The 16th Paralympics is from 24th August to 5th September 2021 in Tokyo and will be the second time the Japanese capital has hosted the event, the first being in 1964. There are 537 events from 22 sports.
Dorset Spotlight wishes Aaron and the whole of the Great Britain Paralympian team the best of luck in their endeavour to bring the gold medals home. We will be watching and cheering you on from afar!
For more details about Aaron, please visit his website www.aaronphipps.com