Disability Identity My Story

‘Disability Does not Mark the End of a Dream – I Wouldn’t be Playing for England now, if I Hadn’t of Suffered a Stroke’: Paralympic Footballer Matt Crossen

Paralympic Footballer Matt Crossen on suffering a stroke at 23 years of age, qualifying for Rio 2016 and masculinity in sports

I was just a typical 23 year old man.

I played football semi-professionally for Marske United in the northern league division, I went to the gym, enjoyed going out with my mates and was regarded as very fit and healthy. On the morning of my incident I left the house as usual for work, and expected the day ahead to be just like any other.

I was at a college nearby, talking about my work to students, when at 1.23pm I felt a tingle on the side of my head, above my ear. My eyesight started to blur, until I could only see out of the corners of them, and then my left side went completely numb. It was at this point I turned to my friend and said “I think I’m having a stroke”. That was the last sentence I was able to get out, because the weakness on my left side had taken over.

You’d think, considering the circumstances, that I would have felt panicked and worried but, as much as I was in shock that this was happening, I remained totally relaxed. I don’t know why this was the case, it could be down to the area of my brain that was being affected by the stroke.

I was rushed to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough where they performed a thrombectomy. I awoke to my family around me, and the doctors confirmed I had suffered a stroke. To this day I owe my life to Dr. Bergen and Dr. Padmanaban, and all of the nurses on the ward that helped get me back on the go again.

The stroke has left me with limited mobility and sensation on the left side of my body, but I absolutely refused to let that stop me from playing football. It’s my passion, it’s who I am – I couldn’t give that up. After rehabilitation, I managed to get back to training, and it was there that I was spotted by talent scouts from the England Cerebral Palsy squad.

Success is more important to me now, than ever before. I wholeheartedly believe positivity breeds success; if you put 100% effort and commitment into what you want to achieve, and never give up, you have a great chance of achieving your dreams. Everyone faces challenges along the way; as well as the stroke, I have also suffered other injuries whilst playing for England, but I believe you learn from these hardships. You just have to use what you have been given to the best of your ability. That is all I have done.

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The best thing about playing CP football is that I get to encourage people with disabilities to keep going. I get to reassure them that a disability does not mark the end of a dream – I wouldn’t be playing for England now, if I hadn’t of suffered a stroke! It is so rewarding when people tell you they have been inspired by you, or the sport, and have tried something new because of it.

I know Ditch the Label’s Annual Bullying Survey revealed that people with disability were at high risk of bullying, and sadly, I have seen examples of this first-hand. However, I have also seen people with a disability turn these negative experiences into a positive – I have seen them grow stronger in the face of adversity. If you have a disability and doubt yourself, or feel like you don’t fit in, my advice would be to try and not overthink it; everyone, at some point or another, disabled or not, feels this way.

There are a lot of stereotypes associated with sport, and men in sport, but masculinity to me, is just a phrase. I’m not the biggest or the strongest, and I don’t mind showing my emotions – there is nothing wrong with being honest about how you are feeling, whoever you are! Maleness and ideas of masculinity have always plagued the sports industry – football in particular, but I feel this is improving.

I honestly can’t put into words how amazing it is to know I will be playing at the Paralympics in Rio this year. From having my stroke, to being told I was definitely going to Brazil – I am really proud of what I have achieved. I am getting goosebumps thinking about it now!

Never give up and never regret! You can turn almost anything into a positive if you want to!

Thanks to Ditch the Label for allowing me to share my story.