Canoeist Shaun chasing Paralympic dream after devastating bike crash
- Credit: Shaun Cook/Archant
One day in April 2018, Shaun Cook's life changed forever.
Enjoying a pleasant motorcycle ride along Great Yarmouth's seafront, Mr Cook was suddenly involved in a collision with a fellow biker.
He was sent catapulting into a lamppost and ended up beneath a caravan.
His brother, Lee - riding closely behind - witnessed the whole thing.
Mr Cook suffered devastating injuries. His back, wrist and ribs were broken, lungs punctured and skin torn in numerous places.
Thankfully, his leathers and helmet prevented any fatal damage from taking place.
The former mechanic and security guard was flown to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, where he remained sedated for six weeks.
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When he finally woke up, the 35-year-old was on a ventilator in intensive care and paralysed.
Mr Cook, who lives in Bintree, near Dereham, was taken a few weeks later to specialist spinal unit in Sheffield where he was taught how to live in a wheelchair.
"There were a few months when things were really bad," said Mr Cook.
"When I was first injured, I thought 'that's it - you're paralysed now. All I can do is sit in front of the TV, sob and play computer games.'
"Those were some seriously dark times. Very, very dark, and that was difficult for my family."
Three-and-a-half years later, Mr Cook's exhaustive rehabilitation process is ongoing, but his recovery has taken on new meaning in recent months after he discovered a love for canoeing.
Having reached out to Tim Scott, Norwich Canoe Club's para coach, he was invited to Whitlingham Boathouse to give it a try - and immediately caught the bug.
Now, Mr Cook is an integral part of Norwich Canoe Club's para programme and, having made rapid progress, harbours hopes of one day competing in the Paralympics.
"This has certainly caught me by surprise," he said.
"When I first came down they put me a in a kayak, I went up and down the river and I loved it. It was brilliant.
"When you start looking around, there is so much out there for people with disabilities to do.
"The canoe club is right on our doorstep and it's a really pretty place to paddle. In the mornings you can come down, turn right and head towards quiet countryside; turn left and you can paddle up towards the city.
"It is a brilliant way for me to start the day."
While enjoying canoeing is important to Mr Cook, there is of course a competitive side to his exploits.
Since he started training he has almost halved his 200m sprint time, and must shave off another second or two - to 64 seconds - to qualify for an upcoming regatta in Nottingham.
The next step after that will be reducing the time to around 55 seconds, which should put him in the frame to train with Team GB.
"There is a long way to go before I start thinking more seriously about it," added Mr Cook.
"But who knows. If I can keep knocking the time off over and over, maybe there could be some kind of Paralympic aspiration.
"The time has come down quite quickly so far. Tim is an excellent coach and he has dedicated so much time to me.
"I'd love to get there. It would be awesome; it would be the icing on the cake after all of this."
Working full-time at the canoe club, Mr Scott looks after the para-paddlers as well as the junior development programme.
He said Mr Cook's tireless work ethic was something to behold.
"When Shaun started paddling here, he was still working out what his life would look like after his injury, which is common with para-paddlers," he added.
"He found that canoeing replaced work from the point of view of structure. It gave him a shape to the day, a reason to get up, a goal and a way to rebuild his life - that was the most important thing.
"Shaun is serious in terms of his aims, which are significant - to paddle for Great Britain - but I always stress the most important thing is that our paddlers simply enjoy coming down here."
Norwich Canoe Club is on the hunt for more people with disabilities to have a go at para-paddling - regardless of experience or ability.
To get involved in para-paddling or find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org at Norwich Canoe Club. You can also visit norwichcanoeclub.co.uk.