Many people within the UK live with disc slippages and prolapse disc conditions. However being diagnosed with Spondylolisthesis as a child can be damaging physically as well as emotionally; with specialist surgery often required to tackle spinal and back injury issues.
We speak to ex-Tottenham Hotspur academy youth prospect Ryon Clarke about living with Spondylolisthesis as a teenager at grades 1 and 2, and how attending our disabilities and long-term health conditions service Ability Bow, is helping him to enjoy his many creative passions in life again.
Ryon Clarke is a man of many talents; albeit it all started with a dream opportunity.
Invited to be part of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club academy at 13-years-old - at a time when illustrious footballing England internationals Sol Campbell, Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton (as well as German star striker Jurgen Klinsmann) were featuring prominently in the White Hart Lane first-team - the 36-year-old fondly remembers participating in a club training session.
“It would have been an amazing time to be part of the wider Tottenham team and youth team system (often known as YTS) with such amazing players, as a YTS offer was made to me around the time (former England international defender) Gary Mabbutt was nearing retirement in 1997, while it was also Gerry Francis’ final season as manager,” Ryon recalls.
But while the potential of playing in front of 35,000 fans in north London every week was once a real future reality for Ryon, he made a daring decision which he now reflects on as being life-changing; following a school injury which greatly impacted his possible future football career.
Ryon says: “As I was an all-round sportsman when I was a lot younger - I'd featured in all my school's sports teams, such as cricket, basketball and athletics with records such as 200m in 25-26 seconds and 100m in 12-13 - I gave everything a go and wanted to prove I could achieve.
“Though while I felt playing football would be a great opportunity, I still loved other sports.
“Then I was offered an opportunity to join the Tottenham academy and while I was also playing cricket for my school, I sadly broke my back at the same time in 1996-’97, during a game. So I couldn’t sign the YTS contract.”
Killed My Life
With the devastating diagnosis following his severe back injury declared, St Catherine Jamaican Born and east London-raised Ryon - who spent a month at the former Queen Elizabeth’s Children’s Hospital - was left feeling dark about what he feels was a missed opportunity which ‘killed’ his life at the time.
Ryon says: “At the time, I felt that not being able to pursue my dream with Tottenham and playing that cricket match really killed my life then.
“With my back practically saying ‘no more’ at the time, I just deteriorated further physically with maintaining flexibility and movement which felt gradually more depressing as my mobility and identity was disappearing almost daily.”
For Ryon it became a spiral. While he was able to pursue a non-league football stint at the since dissolved Leyton Football Club (not to be confused with fellow east Londoners and current Conference Premier Division leaders, Leyton Orient Football Club) for 3-4 years until 2002, he regularly required a back brace during training to manage his injury as effectively as possible.
“While I’ve always been a physically active person (and particularly in my earlier days), all I was told that I could do when I was younger was to go swimming.
“So football was a risk on my part as it really restricted my social mobility, especially with the many adjustments a teenager has and it massively knocked my confidence,” Ryon adds.
Following his football stint, Ryon decided he wanted to give back to those around him.
Even knowing it was a risk working again (with a largely untreated injury for the previous 15 years), Ryon started employment in a domiciliary care role between 2010 and 2011.
But once working, Ryon found he couldn’t assist a client with their balance. Further injuring his back, he required extensive surgery and moved from Royal London Hospital Whitechapel to St Bartholomew; before spending time at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore.
Ryon says: “My condition has led me to being referred to what’s considered England’s best back clinic and because of this and private appointments, the cost has been huge, not just financially on the NHS but also, emotionally harrowing and depressing, personally.
“I’ve had 7 x-rays, 2 MRI scans and one full body scan already this year and we’re only into the second month of 2019 and it’s been exhausting, and these are just check-ups.
“Though since joining Ability Bow I’m trying my best to do all I can to live as well and as independently as possible with my condition.”
With his ongoing injuries, Ryon - trained in acting and dance - felt he needed a lasting change.
Referred to Ability Bow last year, he joined our disabilities and long-term health conditions gym in September.
And after a significant operation in 2015 which as Ryon says means Ability Bow is his ‘first big course of physiotherapy’, the part-time DJ - who is also a hit within ReverbNation’s Greater London music charts at #6 - knows by being part of our uniquely tailored service, he can restore belief in progressing his own recovery.
He says: “Being at Ability Bow is actually the first time I’ve been able to access a gym and have a programme which can also aid my movement.
“I’m so determined to play sport again more fully with my three boys - the oldest one is 16 and I haven’t played football since he was nine or 10-years-old - and after my first operation, it was devastating to be told it hadn’t worked to combat my acquired condition.
“But by being here at this amazing gym and doing just my first initial four to five sessions and chatting to (one of our service’s fully-qualified advanced fitness instructors) Patrick and (our operations manager), Si Mohamed, it really set me at ease.”
Why Ryon Recommends Our Gym
Ryon freely admits he’s not a natural for attending a gym. So why does he feel Ability Bow really suits him and his consistent rehabilitation needs; including in enhancing his own mental health too?
He says: “The last five years I’d been ‘in neutral’ physically and obviously somewhat mentally, as I’ve experienced anxiety and stress being in my house by not being able to prepare a meal properly - as it would take me three hours through a lot of stopping and starting - or drying myself after a shower (which would really hamper my legs and shoulders through rigorous rotations and stretches); which you feel you pay for physically.
“And when I last went to a more corporate gym just eight months after my 2015 operation, I had a few exercises including leg-up-to-chest and using the rowing machines, but this wasn’t designed to help someone with my condition and pain bearing weights and in the legs.
“What Ability Bow does is design programmes tailoring an individual and meets specific physical and mental needs, which other corporate gyms may not be as equipped to do.”
Ryon adds that because he can access leading initial 12 week one-to-one exercise support from our gym’s experienced personal trainers - such as leg curls and exercise bike rides to test strength and pain threshold - he is able to access highly tailored expertise from our instructor Patrick which is aiding Ryon’s more optimistic outlook.
He says: “Given I’d been given the advice to stay away from any high intensity exercise for around 20 years and developed bad habits, Patrick as a trainer will now always ask what’s burning or hurting after freeing up muscles and doing stretches and he’s always able to address what we can do to help manage any pain.
“Why I’m so hopeful about my recovery - and what benefits this programme at Ability Bow can bring to my mobility issues - is even at my first assessment here, I knew it was the best exercise environment and support for me. I felt that my disablement and what it puts my body through were the main focus by starting rehab at the gym.
“Programmes you complete at Ability Bow help your condition, alleviate stress and tension and are basically a massive relief; as the exercise is matched by a great social gym atmosphere and trainers maintaining a nice rapport while checking consistently if you’re alright and if that’s working for you.”
And with Ryon’s burgeoning music and acting experience developing nicely - alongside other previous community and customer facing roles - he feels our gym (based on the third floor at St Stephen’s Road, St Paul’s Church in Bow, near Roman Road Market) can get him back to where he wants to be.
Ryon adds: “While I know living my condition is not always easy - as due to my diagnosis, I may have reduced mobility for a few days after a gym session - the best thing is I now feel I can give things a go and even just leave the house and face life again.
“Ability Bow is unique in helping people with all disabilities and conditions - from strokes, to hidden conditions like mine - and while I’m managing some of the strains of my condition and am gradually aiming to be more efficient with dealing with pain and mobility, the gym is giving me passion for what I love, again.”
Find Out More
To find out more about our disabilities and long-term health conditions service - which works with people living with neurological conditions, to those with MS or Parkinson’s:
To help people like Reece to access more life-changing therapy and facilities: