Sir Philip Craven © Rex Features
It’s a cliché, but it’s important to look on the bright side. I lost the use of my legs aged 16, after a rock climbing accident. I believe you only get one life and I knew I had to get mine back. I just needed to work out how. At Southport Spinal Injuries Unit, I saw a wheelchair basketball team practising outside, from my window. There and then, I knew I wanted to do that, too.
Know your strengths and weaknesses.
As a young man, I was cocky, impetuous and judgemental. I thought I knew it all but I didn’t. From 19 to 22, I trained with able-bodied basketball players five days a week and spent one day a week as part of a wheelchair team. I was ruthless. I thought if the rest of the team didn’t work as hard as me, they were rubbish. Over time, I’ve understood that some players need to work harder at their skills than others and that’s fine.
Learning how to win and lose with good grace is a useful life skill. That said, I always want to win. Even in pub and family games. Though I now know that the main benefit of sport is fun at every level. Teach people the skills and some will compete and some won’t and that’s OK. Though I’m against not exposing children to competition.
Don’t accept what others tell you about your limitations. It’s important to push yourself on, tell yourself you can do it. If I hadn’t been determined, I wouldn’t have become a wheelchair basketball champion.
You only grow from your mistakes. When you take knocks, make sure you learn from them and move forward. Be inspired about what you’re doing and then put the hours in. Commitment always pays off. Don’t do half a job when you can do a proper job.
Life can be frustrating. Since my accident, the only thing I’ve missed is being able to stand at a bar and have a beer. Though I’ve now got a wheelchair that can be adjusted, so I sit higher up. It means people don’t need to look down to talk to me. I never liked that. My other frustration is the way some able-bodied folk treat those in wheelchairs. I book all our flights and travel arrangements but at check-in the ground staff always talk to me through my wife. It’s incredibly ignorant and gets me inflamed.
Take strength from your values and don’t allow yourself to be bullied. Gandhi inspires me. He had simple philosophies but always stuck to his principles. He couldn’t be bought off. If you stick to the things you believe in, then you can sleep soundly at night.
You need a friend you can always turn to. I’ve known Bill Hadaway since school days. I know I can count on him. If something dark happened to me, I’d trust him and his wife Pauline to protect my children. I’m very lucky to have a mate who’s that good. The only thing we can’t agree on is football. He supports Manchester United and I back Bolton Wanderers.
It’s vital to unwind from time to time. We have a home in Brittany, where the pace of life is slower. The shops shut at lunchtime, so everyone has to take a proper break, every day, which I think is very sensible. I’m in love with red wine, too, and when I switch off, I’ll have a glass or two.
In a marriage, you have to work together and not lay blame with the other person. Jocelyn and I met in the 1970s, when I was a sportsman and she was our team’s physiotherapist. We’ve been married for 38 years. She let me follow my career and travel the world, while she often stayed at home with our two children. There were times when I was away so much it caused problems. Frequent absences can add strain to a marriage. I asked myself what was more important and we worked out a compromise. I like to think we support and understand each other.
Laughter’s an invaluable tonic. I couldn’t manage without a few laughs. I get most of those being with my grandchildren. They will jump up on my knee and I’ll twirl them around my wheelchair. Then they’ll say, get out of there, so we can have a go! I read them stories and we play with trains together, too.
Being patriotic matters. Jocelyn and I are both patriotic. We were in Singapore when the news came through that Britain had won the opportunity to host the Olympics. Jocelyn is French and feels a loyalty to her home country. When Britain won, I was delighted but she cried.
Balance the physical and mental. There are a few physical issues to deal with as we get older. Injuries take the rhythm out of life because our bodies seem to take longer to heal with age. However, mentally, I see no problem in looking ahead with all the fearlessness and positivity of a 20-year-old. Why not? There are so many new horizons to explore at all ages.
London 2012 Paralympics, Aug 29 – Sept 9, london2012.com/paralympics. Channel 4 will be broadcasting live; see listings for event and times.