John Bohane meets the inspirational Jamie Wall and finds a natural born fighter who refuses to succumb to anything life throws at him.
Jamie Wall has displayed great courage since he was rushed to hospital on June 28, 2014 with an epidural abscess on his spine, which has rendered him paralysed from the midriff down. Just three days prior to his life-changing infection, Jamie played on the Cork intermediate hurling team who had captured Munster championship glory. The underage dual star was destined to enjoy a glorious inter-county and club career. Jamie underwent significant rehabilitation therapy in both Beaumount Hospital and the NRH in Dun Laoghoire. Today the Kilbrittain native is confined to a wheelchair but his positive and pragmatic approach to life, combined with his steely and ruthless determination, have ensured that he remains committed to enjoying life to the maximum. He is an inspiration to all.
The origin of Jamie’s positive attitude can perhaps best be traced to his favourite motto ‘Never give up, never let up’, which Jamie strives to follow everyday. The 23-year-old is continuing his intensive training rehabilitation while he resides with his family in Kilbrittain, where he still radiates with positivity. “My recovery is going very slowly truth be told. I have noticed some small improvements and somewhat encouraging signs but nothing concrete. I haven’t had much contact with the doctors since leaving the hospital. I mainly work with the physios and trainers at the moment. I think being confident and hopeful about walking again would be jumping the gun a little, right now it’s just about making as many small improvements as I can towards that end and seeing them hopefully add up.”
Jamie was always destined to be a GAA star. His prowess at both football and hurling with his local club Kilbrittain alerted inter-county management to his devastating performances. Jamie made his Cork minor hurling championship debut in 2009; this was quickly followed by his debut appearance for the Cork minor footballers the following season. Jamie played a key role in propelling the Cork minor footballers to the cusp of All-Ireland glory that year. Jamie’s natural athleticism, composure in possession and supreme athletic ability soon marked him out as one of the brightest young players in the county. He progressed to both the Cork U21 football and hurling team, while he continued to play heroically for Kilbrittain, whom he won a county intermediate hurling title and a Junior B county football championship title with. Such was the esteem with which Jamie was held within his local club that he was appointed club captain at the age of 22. This represented a great honour for a young man who was always held in such high esteem by his club colleagues. He always displayed great leadership and maturity beyond his slender years. Jamie, who was always noted as a dedicated trainer during his playing career, continues to engage in a punishing training regime at present.
“A typical week starts with training at home on a Monday morning with some equipment I bought myself followed by an evening session in Elite gym, followed by basketball that same night. Tuesday and Wednesday I try to get two sessions in at home, as well as two sessions in Elite, be it in the Exo-skeleton or other exercises. I train in Cork every Thursday night again in basketball and try to get a second Ekso session in on a Thursday or Friday. I’ve recently added daily trips to the Bandon Hyperbaric Oxygen Centre to my weekly routine so that has added another dimension to my rehab.”
Using the Exo-skeleton, which simulates walking movements, has proved very beneficial according to Jamie. “It has been absolutely great. Aside from the obvious physical benefits of walking systemically, it has massive whole body benefits.”
Jamie, ever keen to help out his beloved Kilbrittain GAA club, was involved with training their U21 hurling side in 2015, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed, as he explained. “Yes it was a great experience. I enjoyed my time working with the U21s. We were beaten by a pretty strong amalgamation side but it was enjoyable to be involved with the lads and they really applied themselves really well. We only had three players who weren’t eligible for the minor grade, so we were quite young; hopefully over the next few years the results will improve.”
Jamie admits though that he still struggles to adjust to becoming a spectator. “As to going to games, I’ve been quite poor. I’m probably hyper critical, especially being as close to it as I was, and I don’t want to be that hurler on the bank that used to drive me so mad, so I just have to stay away from the clubs’ adult games at the moment. Obviously there’s a huge emotional element to that frustration, so truth be told, I’m a poor spectator of games I would otherwise have been involved in. As regards neutral games I do very much enjoy them still.”
Jamie is indebted to the superb support and tender loving care he has received from his large family network. “Their support has been great. We would have a relatively large extended family and all of them and indeed their communities have been incredibly supportive.”
The popularity and high esteem in which Jamie is held throughout West Cork and indeed the country is very evident with many sporting and non-sporting organisations engaging in specially designed charity events specially intended to raise money for the Friends of Jamie Wall fund. Jamie is truly humbled by the reaction of the Irish people. He is lavish in his praise for all the help and support he has received. “To say I was astounded by the support and generosity of people would be to say I doubted that that support would be there. I think the people in this country and in particular in West Cork have shown time and time again how they rally around communities and people in need of support, so it would be foolish to be astounded by it at this stage, because that would forget how good these people have always been to people and various groups. That being said it has been incredible, as well as empowering.”
Jamie was recently the guest of honour at the Maryborough House Hotel, where the victorious double winning Cork football and hurling teams gathered for a victory celebration. The appearance of Jamie walking into the main function room with the aid of an Exo-skeleton brought the house down, as he received a standing ovation from the capacity 600 crowd. This magical memory resonates with a poignant and humble Jamie, as he recalls. “The moment was a little overwhelming if I’m honest. Obviously that whole day was an incredible experience and to hear certified legends speaking about me as if they admired me and respected what I was about was a little surreal.”
Jamie’s positive and candid approach to his battle has drawn admiration from all. What does he attribute his positive mental approach to? ” I’d be lying if I let on that I’m a constantly positive guy. Of course I have off days. I have plenty of tough moments also, but I suppose something I find very important, and have found very important from the off, was to recognise what road I wanted to take and what I wanted to be about. I aspire to try and maintain that approach even if there are times I feel a million miles from that.”
The very same day Jamie was rushed to hospital, he was due to lead his beloved black and amber side into hurling championship action that evening. Does Jamie ever think back to that fateful day? “Yes, probably at some stage every day. There’s no point hiding from it, it’s always going to be there. It’s unfortunately now a large part of who I am, but I just have to acknowledge its presence without letting it overwhelm me. The best way to do that is to allow it a place in my memory and my past.”
Does he ever allow frustration or anger with his situation develop? “Often, but as the late Kieran O’Driscoll said of his battle with cancer — ‘why not me?’ For me there’s no ‘plan’ to these things or no control, so why get fixated on ‘why me?’ or whatever; it’s not like this was bestowed on me. It’s just the way it worked out unfortunately and I have to do everything I can to get out of it now or at least get to a place where I am happy with where I am.”
During the course of a memorable underage career, Jamie played on some great teams with some great players where he forged and developed lasting friendships with colleagues. He treasures all these magical memories. “Of course there are some great memories from my playing career. Winning the county championship in 2010, the minor run to the All-Ireland final with the Cork footballers of the same year, playing Fresher GAA, and playing with the Fitzgibbon team of 2013, helped forge great memories and friendships that I will have forever.”
Jamie reacts with a great sense of pride when people refer to him as a superb rolemodel and a shining light for the youth of today for the dignified way he has handled his life-changing injury. He is cautious however with his ‘new found accolade’, as he elaborated. “It makes me very proud. But it comes with a sense of responsibility too. I’d be very happy to never have assumed any sort of role as that but if indeed that is the case I can only say that I’m proud some people would consider me as a rolemodel and what I’m about as a decent example for others.”
Jamie still takes great interest in the development of the Cork hurling and football teams. He is encouraged by the recent appointments of Kieran Kingston and Peadar Healy to management positions for the hurling and football team respectively. “I never worked under Kieran but I know that any of the hurling lads I’ve spoken too hold him in very high regard, which augurs well. I had a very limited dealing with Peadar Healy in 2012, during a very, very brief training stint with the Cork senior panel but I thought he was good. I just hope the county gets behind him and the team and that there is no sniping before a ball is even kicked.”
So, outside of his punishing training regime, playing basketball on a competitive basis and coaching underage hurling sides, what does Jamie do to relax and unwind? “Honestly I’m a big fan of the Playstation. I recently invested in the new Metal Gear Solid game, so between that and Fifa, I’ve a good set up going for when I do get time to relax. I’m a big TV and film watcher too, so I’m currently on the hunt for a new box set to watch!”
Jamie’s refreshing sense of perspective to life deserves to be admired. Jamie previously stated that, “walking again would be like winning an All-Ireland medal”. If All-Ireland medals were presented for bravery, determination and character in abundance, then Jamie Wall would be the most decorated player to have ever played GAA.