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James Cracknell - a two-time Olympic gold-medal rower and a great endurance athlete having rowed the atlantic, ran the Marathon des Sables and raced to the South Pole. James, having once pushed limits and boundaries, was now struggling to deal with even the simplest tasks in life.
In July 2010, while taking on a new challenge (to cycle, run, row and swim from LA to New York in record time, James suffered a near fatal accident having being struck from behind by a truck when cycling through Arizona. As a result, James suffered several frontal lobe damage and the doctors weren't sure if he'd recover and, if he did, if he'd ever be the same again.
In Touching Distance, James and his wife Beverley Turner give us an honest, powerful and sometimes emotional account of this extraordinary man and his life. We're told of his childhood, family life, career, and of the accident and the lasting effects it has had on not just his life but of his family's too. It also tells of one man's fight to be the man he used to be, to be the best husband and the best father he can be.
I felt rather guilty for laughing while reading Beverley's words about things James would say and how he would say them in the aftermath of the accident, but I think it's a case of if you don't laugh you'll cry. Brain injuries are terribly cruel as, unlike other injuries, they can affect a person's personality. James talks a lot about this in the second half of the book as he's aware he's changed and that he's 'not quite James Cracknell'. Beverley and the family are even more aware of the changes in James's personality than he is and it is they who have taken the brunt of it, yet Beverley has stayed by his side and continues to support him.
Even before the accident Beverley didn't exactly have it easy. Being an Olympic rower meant James focused almost solely on his rowing and his endurance expeditions, leaving Beverley practically alone to raise the family whilst still pursuing her own career. Beverley is one understanding woman!
James obviously doesn't remember the crash, but he doesn't attempt to fill in the gaps, instead he leaves that to his wife, Beverley. She can see the difference in him, in his personality, his ability to do things and in the way he reacts.
The book gives us a great insight into how a brain injury affects not just the injured, but the whole family. I found this especially interesting as a family friend suffered a brain injury having been attacked on a night out a few years ago, leaving him a different man.
Whilst James has been called brave for some of the endurances he has undertaken, the same can be said of Beverley. A high percentage of couples have divorced after one has received a brain injury, but Beverley and James have so far managed to avoid being a part of that statistic. Beverley has steadfastly stood by James and has been a pillar of strength for him, even when things have gone beyond tough.
It is said of a lot of autobiographies, but Touching Distance really is an honest account. Both James and Beverley have opened up their lives and hearts to readers in this book and they haven't held back. Beverley even writes about the time (post-accident) when James attempted to strangle her. It's not sensationalised, just honest.
Whether you're a fan of James Cracknell, rowing, endurance challenges or not, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this book. We get to see the man behind two Olympic gold medals and the determination of a sportsman, as well as how and accident can change a man and how that affects those around him.
Inspirational, in more ways than one.