Why losing a leg failed to halt Martin’s sport dream

Martin Heald plays football for Great Britain
Martin Heald plays football for Great Britain
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Martin Heald is leading by example as he works to get more people involved in sport.

The 23-year-old is a project support officer for Lancashire Sport Partnership, a Leyland-based organisation which aims to enable 55,000 people to be active by 2017.

His free time is also taken up with sport, as he plays football for Great Britain and has previously represented the country in climbing.

Martin is an amputee, having had part of his leg removed when he was 15 as he battled osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer - the second time he had had cancer.

He said: “I started getting aches and pains behind my left knee. I went to the doctor and they said it was a cyst, but it wasn’t. I had chemotherapy and treatment and then had it amputated.”

The leg was amputated above his knee and Martin had a prosthetic limb or used crutches to help him walk, though he could not carry things when walking with crutches. Martin was in and out of hospital for a year as he underwent treatment, which had a real impact on his life.

Martin Heald

Martin Heald

“My mum pretty much took a year off work to be with me for the whole time. It affected the whole family, not just me,” he said. “I pretty much had a year off school and when I went back to school, I made the decision to go back a year because it was the first year of my GCSEs.”

It was the second time he had battled cancer, after neuroblastoma was found around his left kidney at the age of four. He was given just a 15 per cent chance of survival and underwent a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy and radioactive isotopes - but it is thought the cancers were not linked.

“It was completely unrelated,” Martin said. “I think it’s quite rare. I think I have been a bit unlucky.”

Now, Martin uses a prosthetic leg at work but otherwise walks with crutches. And he does not let the amputation stop him getting active. Before he liked skateboarding, but he has discovered a passion for sport since the amputation.

“There is always a way. I don’t think anything should stop anyone, especially when we have clubs that provide a lot of help and all the disability clubs in Lancashire.”

Martin Heald

Martin started playing football after seeing a picture of amputee football in a magazine while in a waiting room. His dad got in touch and Martin went along to a small football league in Preston for disabled people.

Martin said: “I had a little watch and then I said I wanted to give it a go. It was difficult at first. It was one of the hardest sports to get a hang of and it’s quite physically demanding, but once you get going and get stronger, it’s enjoyable.”

The whole team plays on crutches, rather than using prosthetics. And Martin soon progressed through the ranks to secure a place in the Great Britain amputee team.

“It was quite a small set-up when I first started which made it easier to get in the team,” he said.

“The first tournament was in Turkey in 2008 and that was the European championships. I played one full match and I scored on my debut. It was good.”

Martin continued to compete and played in Mexico in the Amputee World Cup, as well as in Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Dubai and Germany.

He trains twice a week in Manchester, as well as still playing in Preston and a Lancashire FA league.

Martin, who lives in Wesham, said: “It’s just like normal football. You have to have all the skills like passing and your fitness. Sometimes you try to kick it with your other leg that’s not there, which happens to a lot of people .”

Martin has also represented Great Britain in climbing, having first tried it while working for Lancashire Sport Partnership.

He said: “I climb probably two to three times a week. It’s more of a single sport on your own and is a lot different to a team sport.

“With a team sport, you have someone pushing you but on your own it’s just you and the wall. It’s nice to get away from team sport in a way, but you have to have more determination yourself to do it.”

Martin does not currently represent the nation, as he chose to concentrate on football and the Amputee World Cup, but he hopes to return to the team soon.

He said: “I’m going to try to get back in the team this year. We have the first competition of the year in September in Edinburgh.”

And he is not stopping there, as he is considering taking up a new sport.

Martin said: “I went on a skiing lesson the other day. I thought I would take up skiing and see how that is. I quite enjoyed it. I need to go for another lesson because I’m not very good.”

Sport has now become a key part of Martin’s life: “Sport is something I can do to help relax and ease stress. It’s something I really enjoy and has taken over my life in a way. I enjoy it so I don’t think I would do it any other way.”

And he hopes other people will get involved with sport.

He said: “There is always a way. I don’t think anything should stop anyone, especially when we have clubs that provide a lot of help and all the disability clubs in Lancashire.

“There are a lot of ways to do things and it’s better than it used to be.”