Brain-damaged boxer fights to finish his own epic marathon
Saturday 19 April 2003
With an entourage including a neurosurgeon, personal trainer and a teenager who this week learnt to walk again, Michael Watson entered the home straight of an epic London Marathon yesterday.
Labouring under a blazing Easter sun, the former middleweight boxer, who only walked unaided for the first time at Christmas after suffering brain damage in the ring 12 years ago, inched from Wapping along the north bank of the Thames before picking his way carefully over the cobbled approach to the Tower of London.
Having ground along to the 22-mile mark by 11am, dragging his semi-paralysed left leg around his pivotal right, he was greeted among other well-wishers and slightly perplexed tourists outside the Tower by Mick King, dressed in full beefeater's garb.
Shaking Mr Watson's gloved right hand, the Yeoman Warder, 43, who competed in last Sunday's run, said: "Many congratulations, Michael. I did it too last Sunday. It took four hours and 10 minutes but your effort is much more impressive."
At times he makes it look easy, acknowledging well-wishers with a broad smile and a raised arm. But occasionally the strain shows when he silently fixes his gaze on the yards ahead; he wobbles before stepping off a curb or bends down, hands on knees, to regain composure.
A veteran of bruising bouts with Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn – as well as a High Court triumph over the British Boxing Board of Control – the 38-year-old from Chingford, Essex, trained for his first marathon at a Cornish retreat and now takes his inspiration from divine sources.
During one of his frequent pauses along the route, Mr Watson mopped the sweat from his brow and neck and reflected on the past week. He said: "I am feeling very tired but it has been enjoyable because of the support along the way. I have been confident from day one and feel extremely overwhelmed. I would like to give thanks to God and Jesus Christ for bringing back the power to my legs."
Already he is contemplating another London Marathon, and maybe taking part in a race elsewhere. His team of helpers from the Brain and Spine Foundation will hope the next venture can be more profitable, having raised £36,000 by yesterday against a target of £1m.
In the past six days he has covered two miles either side of lunchtime, when he eats a high-carbohydrate meal of chicken and pasta before sleeping for up to three hours to recover from the immense physical strain and concentration.
After a final pasta supper, a soaking for his blistered feet and a good night's sleep, Mr Watson will rise today to complete the final 1.25-mile stretch by midday. He will be accompanied along The Mall to the finish line by Eubank, his adversary on the fateful night at the White Hart Lane stadium in 1991 when he collapsed into the corner after the 12th round. Six weeks in a coma, he suffered severe brain damage, blindness in his right eye and paralysis from which he has only partially recovered.
Along the route Mr Watson has inspired many people, but none more so than Alex Robinson, 14, who suffers similar disabilities as a result of a skateboard accident and joined in on Monday on the suggestion of his father, Glen. After remarkable results, both were back yesterday, providing one of the most touching stories ever to have emerged from the world-famous race. Mr Robinson said: "Until this week my son was only able to walk the width of our front room, but on Monday he went two miles and is going for it again today."
Mr Watson admitted that apart from the remarkable feat of taking on the marathon, he had found a new friend. He said: "I love Alex, he is a true character and has a great sense of humour. The only trouble is he keeps embarrassing me by racing ahead."
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