Your Ambition Creates The Future

750 people gathered in Queens University. Half of them were there to receive their degrees and half were there in proud support. Queens asked me to speak to the graduating class of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Nursing and Midwifery prior to the conferment of their degrees, after which I would receive a Queens honorary doctorate.


Graduation day was the 4th of July 2012; the week saw the 2nd anniversary of a fall that broke my back. I was reflecting on the early days in intensive care and, more particularly, on the people, including some of you who read this blog, who were ambitious about my prospects of recovery. For the students in The Great Hall in Queens, I suppose, I wanted to plead for ambition for them, for their subject and for the people whose lives they will save and whose dignity they will restore in the future. Who knows, some of them might just be part of the pioneering science of cure discovery? And so I finished my speech with: “Be brave, be different and be ambitious”.


In the 1940s, Papa Guttmann, a Jewish refugee fleeing Nazi Europe was ambitious for the prospects of people with spinal cord injury. He found himself working in a small hospital in England….. A spinal cord injury was a terminal disease. Victims lay in bed for a few months, developed pressure sores and died through infection. Guttmann’s pioneering work resulted in the establishment of the first spinal unit in the world at that hospital in Stoke Mandeville, the hospital where 60 years later I had my spine patched with metal rods and screws. And in 1948, driven by a belief that physical exercise would benefit people with spinal cord injuries, he started what we now know as the Paralympic Games.


Now, life expectancy is at comparable rates with the average population. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games the athletes are branded Superhuman. It is now over half a century from a spinal cord injury being terminal to being manageable. Now I see new pockets of ambition around the world. For example, the people in Ekso Bionics. Only last week I walked 8,000 steps over 4 days in the Ekso Bionics’ robotic legs. To see me walking in Ekso, go to


The Paralympians from around the world are rewriting the record books, as Guttmann rewrote the rules. And so too can we. Be brave, be different and always, always be ambitious.


Any thoughts on ambition? Any resources for us on rewriting the rules? Ted Talks, your own work or your own story – I would love to hear from you.


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