As Ray Evans crossed the line of the recent 2019 Asda Foundation Derby Half Marathon, it was the end of a race that had taken him 2 years 1 hour 49 minutes and 41 seconds to complete.
The Littleover runner’s race began with the 2017 Derby half marathon, then known as The Ramathon, but that day ended in agony when Ray’s ankle collapsed after 12 miles. A year later the surgeon agreed they were unable to do anything more for Ray’s ankle. Now, following the amputation, Ray has returned to running and taken on some remarkable challenges.
The 55-year old with a cheeky grin is inspirational in his attitude, determined not to let his setback change his life. He sees everything as a challenge to be overcome to live life as any able bodied person would.
Ray’s attitude is inspirational
But this chapter of Ray’s life actually began whilst serving in the Royal Navy, ‘The Senior Service!” Ray laughs, back in the 1980s when he fell and suffered a broken back, ankle and hip. He was eventually diagnosed with necrosis in the ankle, where the affected bone material dies and the condition creeps affecting more bone material.
“I learned to live with it,” says Ray, but in 2016 I had an accident where I came off some ladders and scaffolding breaking my arm in 9 places. I came back from this injury and got myself fit again, training hard and running with a friend. In the 2017 Ramathon I got to the 12 mile mark and it just popped. I thought it was a bad case of a sprain, hobbled back to the finish at Pride Park, taking short cuts,” he laughs,” and went to A&E.
“I had a few operations to try and save it. I was given the worst case scenario that if it didn’t work it would be an amputation to restore a quality of life. After 10 months I went to see surgeon who said it’s not worked. I had two options: to be in pain for the rest of my life, walking with a stick or an amputation. I said ‘I’ve been married once, I don’t want no more pain!’ The surgeon, Professor Rajah said ‘Well, I know you’re ready then.’”
Ray had his operation six weeks later.
“The day I went in I did all the tricks, had my toe nails painted in my club colours, all sorts of naughty things! I came out in late May of last year. It took about 8 weeks to get my first (fixed) prosthetic leg which was very scary but I could not fault the prosthetic team and the amputee department down at The Royal, they were brilliant.
“I went in scared, frightened, thinking this is the end of my life. We all have this vision of people with prosthetic legs walking round like manikins but the prosthetic team Karen, Jessica, Gordon, Lizzy, Clayton, Jo and many more were great and now I have a new family. They are there every day that I go down, they put things right for me and they help me out. I cannot express how much I am thankful to the NHS, every single department is special.
“When I first walked with the parallel bars that was the best feeling ever! I stood and cried. Lizzy was there and I shouted ‘I’ve done it!’
“I had my next leg a few weeks later, moulded to me and started to do stupid things making the hospital team cringe, sort of running but more like Bambi on ice! I was just trying to push myself to prove to myself that I was a normal person. I am a normal person but my feelings at the time… I didn’t see it in myself and the darker side took over in my mind. With the support of the amputee department and the crisis team, Derby MIND, lots of cups of tea, it helped in coping with day to day issues.”
Forces limbless veterans charity Blesma sent Ray on a confidence building extreme sports course in America and soon after he was fitted with a prosthetic leg with a foot that bends allowing him to jog and run forwards.
“The very first steps were weird but exciting! I have mates in the running community and I was joining in with them. It was upsetting that I wasn’t up with the front lot but I was out and running. People were coming back to muster with me and I was learning what it was like to have friends come back and help me, it was great.
“The NHS have guidelines, three months to reach this stage, three months to reach that. Apparently I was pushing the boundaries and the amputee department were a bit scared. ‘Ray, if you fall over and do some damage, think of the paperwork!’
Ray Evans, always pushing boundaries
“I did my first half marathon on the 13th November, starting from the hospital and took me over two and a half hours to do. My leg was in a pretty bad state, blistered up, blood everywhere and the nurses told me off. But I thought ‘Great, I’ve done it and I can do more.’”
At the beginning of the year Ray set himself new goals including running 3,000 miles in 2019. Ray, now running with a blade, is already well on target having completed 1,500 by mid-June. In August he plans to complete his ‘August 500’: 1 mile on the 1st, 2 miles on the 2nd and ending with a 33 mile fell run on the 31st.
Cheering crowds gave Ray a lift as he heads for the half marathon finish line Photo: Geoff Ford/Derby Telegraph
He also hopes to raise £12,000 by the end of March 2020 to give back to those charities that have helped and supported him through some dark days and life changing experiences. To do this he has set up a just giving page Ray Evans Running On Metal.
In the mean time there was the unfinished business of completing the half marathon in Derby. Ray fell four times and his leg came of after 6 miles but he still crossed the line in a remarkable 1 hour 49 minutes and 41 seconds.
“I was aiming for 1 hour 40!” he laughed, but this larger-than-life character was not joking. “I know I can do it’” he grinned.
“And the cheers, as I came towards the finish line,” he said, “that was incredible and gave me such a lift for those final yards.”
Planning for his future Ray also wants to retrain as a personal trainer to help others. “If, on the way, it inspires others to think ‘I’m able bodied and I can get out of the armchair and walk a hundred metres,’ a hundred metres is better than sitting in an armchair. That could lead to doing more exercise, park-runs and living a little bit healthier.
Ray completed the Derby Half Marathon in a remarkable 1 hour 49 minutes 41 seconds Photo: Geoff Ford/Derby Telegraph
“I’m 55 years old and I feel I can compete against those in their mid-30s who are good able bodied club runners. My personal goal is to get back to good-for-age for a marathon with an able bodied person’s time. If I can do that with just one leg, that will be my achievement. It will be good for me and show people that if you put a little bit of effort in, anything is possible.”