Disability My Story

Jack Bridge: What it’s Like to Have Haemophilia

Hi my name is Jack, I’m 21 years old and I represented Team GB as a swimmer in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. I came 4th in the world for the 100 meters breaststroke.
If you saw me, you would wonder why I was a Para athlete and not an able bodied one. I don’t look like your normal disabled athlete – no wheel chair, no missing limbs etc. I suffer from a condition called Haemophilia – I have no factor VIII (8) in my body.  Basically it means that my blood doesn’t clot properly.  If you’re not a haemophiliac and you get a bad knock in something like rugby or football you would get a bruise – an internal blood clot, but my blood can’t do that normally, so I have to have injections of factor VIII (8) every other day. When I was little I had a lot of bleeds into my elbow, knee and ankle joints and they were left badly damaged – I can’t straighten my left elbow and sometimes I find it difficult to walk due to pain in my ankles and knees.  It is for this reason that I am classified as a Para Athlete.

So where does the bullying come into my life then?  I’ve been really, really lucky in that I’ve always had great friends that have looked after me. They’ve always tried to make sure I could join in with games and hang out with them. I loved football and cricket and was able to play when I was little as long as I wore lots of protection. At nursery I made some good friends who I went on to primary school with. They knew that I was a bit different and could get hurt much easier than they would. When I got to primary school though, I made some new friends and these other boys turned out not to be such nice people.

Sometimes haemophilia made the pain in my ankle so bad that I couldn’t walk but I was too small for a wheelchair so I would have to go to school in my buggy.  Some nasty boys laughed at me and called me “Pram Boy”.  My good friends always stood up for me and pushed them away – but as you probably know, even when your true friends have your back, bullying still hurts – really hurts in fact. I mean I always knew I was different (my Mum said I was ‘special’) but no one had ever hurt me before like those boys did.

I did get stronger as I went through school; managing to get there without my buggy more and more too.  They still made fun of me though– it wasn’t nice, it hurt a lot. I tried not to show how the bullying made me feel inside but it’s hard to hide, especially when you’re only little.

Those boys went on to a different high school than me – thank goodness, but I still see them around. They laugh at me and continue to make comments behind my back.  I’ve come to realise though that these boys are just sad people. They have fears and problems of their own and take this out on other people to make themselves feel big. It’s their loss if they can’t accept that everyone is different and I wouldn’t dream of swapping my life for theirs.

Life is never easy, regardless of who we happen to be.  All we can do is our best.  I have always tried to turn a negative situation into a positive one.  This attitude has helped me cope throughout my life and has guided me through the painful situations I’ve had to endure. Some people don’t have a very good view of themselves and instead of looking at their own character and situation to see how they might improve things, they look for someone to blame. This may result in them using bullying as a coping mechanism, which they’ll direct at someone like you or me. These people are not to be feared, they are to be sympathised with. This isn’t easy, especially when they’ve got friends in the class or group who appear to be on their side (at least on the surface). You feel like everyone is against you. I know its hard, trust me, but you MUST remember that not everyone is like them. In fact, lots of your classmates will actually be on your side, but are also too frightened to say anything.

It is really important that you speak to someone about the bullying – a parent, a teacher, a friend or relative – anyone who you trust that you know will listen.  You’ll be surprised by the amount of grown-ups that have experienced bullying themselves and so they’ll know what you’re going through right now and will want to help you. Remember that the one thing someone who bullies you fears is being found out and being shown to be picking on others who are more vulnerable than they are.
By sharing this story, I hope that it will help you – if only in a small way, to cope with the very distressing experience of bullying. You are not the problem so stay strong, speak up and remember you are not alone. You will get through this.

– Jack Bridge
You can keep up with Jack by following him on Twitter.