One leg no barrier to living a full life

PUBLISHED: 15:25 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 07 September 2010

Hampstead man s memoir shows what can be achieved if only you are able to stay positive, as Bridget Galton discovers HARRY Wade was born with two fingers missing and a shorter right leg with a club foot. His self-published memoir, Out On A Limb (£8.9

Hampstead man's memoir shows what can be achieved if only you are able to stay positive, as Bridget Galton discovers

HARRY Wade was born with two fingers missing and a shorter right leg with a 'club' foot.

His self-published memoir, Out On A Limb (£8.95, One-Legged Publications) covers the physical and psychological difficulties of life with an artificial leg - but it is much more a celebration of what can be achieved if you grow up feeling enabled, rather than disabled - as he says in the first chapter: "Ability and disability are sometime governed by a frame of mind, of yourself and also of your loved ones."

Wade was lucky enough to have loving parents Diana, and Hampstead historian Christopher Wade, who refused to see their son's situation as a barrier to a normal life.

Despite three-monthly visits to fit legs that were made of leather, wood and metal - and doctors who focused on all the things a disabled child 'couldn't' do - Wade walked at 18 months, rode a trike at three, then a bike, and attended the same nursery and primary school (New End in Hampstead) as his older sister Joanna.

Later on there are sponsored cub scout walks, long bike rides around London, (he cycled across the Heath every day to get to William Ellis School but got out of hated cross country by pleading disability) regular Sunday morning football on Primrose Hill with teenage friends, a gap year in America, learning to drive, and a list of sporting prowess including badminton, swimming, tennis, go-karting, skiing and water-skiing.

Wade, who worked for 10 years for Camden Libraries Service including time at the Heath branch library, credits his parents' positive encouragement and the "tolerant, bohemian, liberal" population of 60s Hampstead for the lack of bullying and hurtful comments he experienced growing up.

On the strength of this lively, honest, often humorous autobiography of his first 25 years, you wonder whether he was also helped by a naturally adventurous, can-do nature.

The book opens with an anecdote about scaring his mother by careering downhill near their Willoughby Road home on his red trike aged four.

He skids to a halt just before the road junction at the bottom by jamming his metal leg into the pedals.

The only activity that presents a problem is sea swimming as the salt water corrodes the artificial leg, meaning a painful hop across pebbles, rocks and shells to reach the shore. (Wade gets around this by having a back up "sea leg").

As a teenager he utterly refused to feel disadvantaged or victimised - there's a poignant moment when he joins his friend's special needs swimming lesson at Swiss Cottage aged 16 and is appalled at getting off the bus "being part of the public parade of the disabled... with no chance for me to convince the bus bystanders how individual and able I was." (He later turned down an offer to join the Paralympics badminton squad).

During his gap year he was forced to spend whole days off his artificial leg because the blisters were too painful from extensive sight-seeing.

And while studying English Literature at Exeter University following a painful "trim operation" to remove the remains of his foot, he grew temporarily angry and depressed about his future and his love life.

Now married with three children and working for the National Youth Agency the 50-year-old still dislikes being seen as disabled - and the "furtive flicker" of curious stares.

Although he believes it is easier to be "just born that way," than to have to deal with limb loss through accident or tragedy in later life, he is irritated by dewy-eyed descriptions of 'brave' amputees who learn to walk. It is after all something people do all the time without fuss.

He recently signed up as a volunteer for his local hospital in Leicester - where he will work with children getting used to life without a limb. It's a testament to his clear-sighted, positive approach that I can think of no-one better for the job.

o Out On A Limb is available from One-Legged Publications, price £8.95. Email outonalimb @hotmail.co.uk.

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