As an elite rower, Ben Pritchard can offer many eye-opening insights into the potential of the human body. When you dig deeper into his story however, his journey of self-discovery and triumph over adversity makes his perspective truly remarkable.
Initially more at home on the road than the water, Ben was a rising star of UK cycling until a crash in a 2016 race left him with severe spinal injuries. Paralysed from the ribcage down, he found a new focus for his competitive nature and today finds himself back at the forefront of athletic endeavour as part of the GB Development Para-rowing Squad.
We caught up with Ben to talk about adaptability, resilience, and pushing the body to its limits in the face of life-changing events.
The body is…
The body is amazing. It has the ability to change and do whatever you want it to do. Humans are designed to walk, not to use their arms to move around, and you can see that even though I lost the ability to walk, my body has adapted and enabled me to live a normal life. And that’s because of the human body – it’s not me. It’s the human body’s ability to adapt and change – that’s the most incredible thing it does. I came back from a staggering injury, now a year later I’m training in professional sport again. Even when you think you’re at your lowest, the body can somehow change and push you forward.
On pushing the body to its limits
Being an athlete prior to my accident, following the accident I was missing that physical endurance, that physical test. I’ve been asked, ‘why do you love rowing?’ and I say it’s the taste of blood you get in your mouth after you do a massive test – it’s just pushing your body to the uttermost limit that your lungs are giving off an acidic taste – it tastes like iron in your mouth – and that’s what I love about rowing. It gives you that ability to strive and perform and push yourself to the utmost edge.
On freedom through physicality
When I’m going about everyday life, I’m normally quite a shy person and a bit self-conscious, but when I’m doing sport I don’t feel any of those feelings. I know that I’m in my element and I’m happier with the way I am, happier with the way I perform, happier with the way I look and feel a lot more confident with my body when I’m doing sport than when I’m not.
On holistic fitness
I have a saying that training is made up of three pillars. One of which is your physical state, so you need to train, go to the gym, do your exercise, and look after what you’re putting in your body, so your nutrition. You have your mental pillar, which is looking after your brain and making sure you enjoy your life. And there’s also your flexibility and your core, so you can’t just choose doing the exercises and doing all the training to make your body perfect. You have to have everything line up. Looking after your skin, the way you eat your food, how you sleep at night; they all add up, so you have to take each pillar individually.
On wisdom gained
Before my accident, cycling was everything, it was my passion and it still is my passion. I love bikes, I love the way they ride, I love the noise they make. Cycling is my passion and I thought life was gone. You spend a lot of time in hospital questioning yourself and questioning why it happened to you. The biggest thing the accident has taught me is to enjoy who I am. I spent three months questioning who I am and what journey I’ve been on. I’ve come out the other end now and I’m more comfortable with myself as a person than I was before the accident. I think that’s such a great thing to take away from such a bad situation – actually enjoying who you are.
The advice I’d give to my younger self is: don’t worry about yourself, don’t worry about your body; just be happy with who you are. I spent a lot of time questioning myself in hospital and I’m probably the most confident now, following my accident, than I’ve ever been before. Just take time to learn who you are.