“The morning of March 20 2016 I remember thinking and feeling that I had a perfect life” In the blink of an eye, Dans life changed.
Daniel Thurling`s account of the life changing event that happened at the AFBJJ`s Western Australian No Gi State Titles in March 2016.
My name is Daniel Thurling and I am a 37 year old purple belt, I have been actively involved in martial arts since my early 20s. Competing in many disciplines like Kickboxing/Muay Thai/MMA and of course BJJ.
The morning of March 20 2016 I remember thinking and feeling that I had a perfect life, I had a successful small business working as a decorative concreter (www.aggregateexposedperth.com), a loving young family, I had just built a brand new house and I had strong a passion for jujitsu. In 2014 and 2015 I had made a conscious decision to compete in as many competitions as I practically could. I was doing well, I had won placed and won in most of the comps, with one of my best achievements winning the open weight division at the Machado nationals. I had also set a goal of competing at the world masters 2016. I was about to compete in the AFBJJ WA State Titles.
Until one moment when my life changed.
March 20th 2016.
My first match of the day, I was feeling confident I was off to a good start with a solid take down, as the match went on we had some exchanges of positions and eventually – I had my opponent in what seemed like a “tight armbar from guard as I went to secure the lock and hopefully the match my opponent lifted off the ground and slammed me head first into the mat. Instantly I knew it was serious, having “pins and needles” shoot hard through my hands like an electric shock. I was trying to get up but was in serious pain, I remember trying to signal to my corner (Black Belt Cleave Williams) that I was hurt bad.
The referee had signalled for the first aid to come over, the medical team had told me to keep still and not to move, however being in shock I didn’t listen I was scared. I wanted to prove to myself I could walk and I wasn’t paralysed. So I got up! I actually finished the formalities of the match getting my hand raised and my opponent dis-qualified for intentionally slamming.
I remember my opponent coming up to me and apologizing and actually congratulating me on my victory, at the time I was in too much pain to be angry however I distinctly remember thinking, that he “would have his own cross to bear” meaning I don’t think he had fully realized the consequence of his actions that he would definitely later regret.
I went over to the first aid area, by now the pain was so intense I had to lie on the floor and get an ambulance to take me to Charles Gardener hospital. In the meantime my team mates from my club had rang my wife and collected my car and my medal.
I was still holding on to hope that it was just “soft tissue damage”. After several X-rays and scans the Doctors had discovered that I had a fragment of bone lodged very close to my spinal column.
By this stage my wife was by my side understandably concerned. I remember looking at her and breaking down in tears I cannot explain the fear I experienced at that moment, my world had been destroyed. The guilt I felt for putting my family through this was overwhelming.
I was transferred the Perth Royal hospital as they had the facilities for the surgery and care I needed. After being in the spinal ward for two days, I had my operation spinal fusion of the c5 c6 discs a bone graft and titanium plate inserted in my neck.
The operation was a success.
I had to immobilize my neck in a neck brace for 3 months, this was extremely uncomfortable.
Obviously my labour intense job as a concreter was out of the question for six months , and I was advised not to lift anything over 5 kg . This was hard, as a parent when I seen my 5 year old son I instinctively went to pick him up, but realised I couldn’t (which broke my heart).
Every day in hospital my coach Dean Wittington visited me every day, the support I received through the BJJ community has been astounding, truly amazing. Thanks to Dean who set up a go fund me page telling people about my situation. To date it has raised over 13 k (which has really come in handy moving into a new house with little income).
I have had personally messages of support and concern from all over the globe from people that have heard my story USA, Germany, New Zealand just to name a few. Recently my team mates have helped my family and I move and settle into my new house I will be forever grateful and forever in their debt.
Over the past four months I also have watched my physical body deteriorate after building a strong physique through years and years of physical training. With the severity of my injury I know that my recovery time is going to be long. Luckily I have had my physio and rehabilitation program taken care of free of charge By physiotherapist and co-founder of the body genius institute, Steve Hooper, Steve is an inspirational man its people like this that keep me going , his confidence gives me strength. Words cannot express how grateful I am for all of this.
However I can’t but feel a deep sadness and an emptiness … I can no longer practice or compete in BJJ, I will never get that Black Belt, it isn’t just the Belt I will miss out on or the training and competing, it is also the relationships and the friends that come with that “connection through physical contact” that I will miss, the close physical contact occurs in the context of intense interpersonal competition, in a stylized struggle for survival, and a very real struggle for physical dominance. It is the constant physical contact in BJJ which I think is one of the most powerful and influential experiences driving the BJJ experience. This is likely one reason why friendships develop so quickly and deeply amongst BJJ students. At the present moment physiologically I have good days and bad days.
Although I cannot change what happened, there is one good thing that came as a result, and that is reconnecting with my father. From the age of 8 onwards, due to a family separation, we hadn’t spent as much time together as I would have hoped. Although we had been in some form of contact over recent years, the fact that we live in different states made spending time together difficult.
Immediately after the accident, my father boarded a plane and was by my side when I was in hospital. He stayed for six weeks, during which time he helped my family move into a new house we had only just bought. I am not only grateful for his care and assistance but also for the opportunity to have built a better relationship during this time.
Along this journey I have set myself small goals to look forwards too, I’ve broken every milestone down into small steps, getting my operation, getting out of hospital, getting the four week x-rays, starting rehab and getting my brace off etc.
It’s funny the same sport that got me into this situation is helping me to get me out of it. Things like getting out of bed at the hospital using my “inside hooks” on legs around the edge of the bed has become second nature. I am truly lucky and gratefully to be alive it could have been a lot worse.
In the words of John Will, “how do you eat an elephant? …..one bite at a time
Thanks for taking the time to read my story.