Clifford "David" Campbell was born 30th December 1970. He died 30th Deceber 2015. I don't remember exactly what year I met David, or for how long I was his Coach, but I do remember the impact that he had on my life.
I first met David at a mutal friend's birthday party in Battersea. The small south london pub was decked out with christmas decorations. Dimly lit, with fairy lights trailing along the ceiling. Angels, stars and various characters from the nativity scene were scattered throughout the interior. The party was in full swing.
The birthday girl grabbed me by the arm, "Cj there is someone I really want you to meet. His name is David and he's an amazing guy."
We swerved and bumped into the bodies that were making shapes on the dance floor. Then we came to a clearing. There sat a man in his wheelchair. The widest grin you have ever seen, a pint of guiness firmly in hand, looking content. He was talking to a group of people, one of which I was to learn was his wife.
My friend explained that David had a genetic form of the condition known as Cerabellar Ataxia. There are many different forms. Often this form of the condition doesn't show up until between 20 - 60 years of age. This was true for David. The condition had reared it's head slowly.
Cerebellar Ataxia effects the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain responsible for movement and muscle coordination. You don't survive this form of Cereballar Ataxia. You endure it. There is no fairy tale ending.
It's a condition that you just manage as best you can. It had already taken David's ability to walk, but he could still enjoy a good guiness and knew how to party.
I squated down by the wheelchair so that I was eye level with David. My friend introduced us. I noticed that the condition had severely reduced his ability for speech, but he was still able to talk. It was slurred and slow, but if you were patient you could understand every word.
The condition doesn't effect your cognitive function, and David still had his wits about him - indeed he had a wicked sense of humour. We got on extremely welll.
We chatted for ages (well for as long as my legs would allow me). In the natural pauses in conversation I would stand, shake my legs out and squat back down.
I was introduced to his wife, who was his primary carer and worked full time. David was looking for a trainer who had experience of working with medical conditions, was patient and most importantly someone he clicked with.
They had heard a lot about me and knew that I had been part of the NHS Rehabilitation Team for Westminister Primary Care Trust. I ticked all the boxes. Over the coming years as his Coach, I became part of the team that took care of David, and a trusted friend. It broke my heart to speak at his funeral several years later.
As David's Coach, the first challenge I faced wasn't actually anything to do with his condition. It was finding a gym that had a floor plan that catered for disabled people.
Sure they had the obligatory disabled access, ramps and a toilet, but once you got in, you'd be damed if you could actually fit a wheelchair in the gym.
The aisles were not wide enough, with gym managers trying to maximise income, the gyms were often crammed full with pieces of kit, which of course limited floor space and access. It was bloody frustrating. I could only imagine how David had coped all this time.
After searching for weeks I found the perfect space. It was Energie Gym in Fulham. It was run by a son and mother team. Not only was the venue a perfect fit, but the staff were welcoming, and took time for each member.
Energie Gym was a welcomed throwback to the health clubs of the 80's that understood each member was more than just a direct debit agreement. The manager, Dario, really made an effort to make David feel at home. We had found our spot.
Escorted by one of his carers David arrived at the gym. That big heart felt grin on his face. The kind that told you he was both friendly and sprinkled with a little deviousness at the same time.
I would kneel down to his level and check in to see how he was doing. Were there any new developments that I needed to be aware of? Did he get enough sleep? How was his energy levels on a scale of 1- 10?
His carer would also fill in the gaps, giving me a run down - aches, pressure sores, new medication, results of hopsital visits. Whatever I needed to know to help me see the bigger picture of what was going on for David in his life.
"What do you want to work on today David?"
"Chest and arms."
"Ok, but you know we have to work on legs as well though right? can't be having no chicken legs buddy"
He laughed as I wheeled him into the gym.
David never failed to amaze me.
There were many times that he arrived at our session when he really shouldn't have come. Barely able to control his body shaking, weak from a restless nights sleep, clearly in pain and feeling shit.
"You should have stayed at home buddy..."
He would flash that smile, and slurred slowly
"I wanted to come. I wanted to train."
No matter what how he felt, David always made time to say hello to the regulars in the gym when we did the rounds, weaving in and out of machines.
David was a huge Arsenal fan and held a season ticket. He would taunt another longstanding member who was an Everton supporter.
Clueless about football I would listen in as the banter flew back and forth between them for five mintues. Basically both of them letting the other know how crap their team was.
Everyone was patient with David when they spoke with him. While they could clearly see, they never asked about his condition. Like me, they understood that David's character was so much larger than his diagnosis.
Week in, week out, he was there every Friday afternoon, training.
The restriction in his movement did not stop him from lifting. We used mainly machines, cables and some free weights, combined with mobility, and stretching.
We focused on strengthening movement patterns related to David's activities of daily living, plus we threw in some old school bodybuiding routines. We couldn't stop the condition, but we could certainly slow the degenerative process down.
David loved working his gunz and we would often secretly have a pose down in the mirrors (while making sure no one really clocked on to what we were doing).
David frequently ended up in hospital due to complications caused by Cerebellar Ataxia. It could be weeks, or months at a time. The members at the gym would notice and ask me if he was ok. I'd explain in brief. They would ask me to pass on their regards. I did.
At that time I would visit David in hospital. In part to keep him motivated as a Coach, in part to just hang out with him as a friend. He would tell me that as soon as he was out, he wanted to get back into training.
No matter how much he was suffering, he never took it out on others. Had that smile on his face more often than not, always had that devious sense of humour and always made time to see how others were doing. He would check in on me too.
When you are in the presence of someone like that. Someone who has every reason to be angry, upset, miserable, despondent - but isn't, it really gives you clarity.
Makes you take a long hard look at yourself.
There were times where I was caught up in challenging situations in my personal life. I'd rock up to the session, and there was David. In all his pain, smile on his face - ready to go.
It was humbling.
That was one of the gifts that David gave to me. His ability to put others first, his joy in life beyond it's circumstances and his commitment to his health and being the best he could be.
It is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Once out of hospital, we got back into training. Working to minimilise the damage the latest attack of his condition had inflicted.
As the years progressed it became so that I would spend more time in the hospital with David, than in the gym.
He became less mobile, and lost more control of his bodily functions. Unable to speak we communicated through a language board and lip reading. David would point to the letters on the board, spelling out a word, and combine that with exaggerating the words as best he could with his mouth.
Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't.
Often I would not be able to understand what he meant. Instead of pretending I did, I would apologise, "Sorry I don't understand that David."
He would try again. If I still didn't understand, he would stop, and we'd move on to something else.
It was frustrating for both of us.
As his body began to shut down, our ability to have a full training session diminished. We would train for some of it. I would mobilise him for the rest. Then talk or just hang out.
Then in 2015 David was admitted to hospital with something that was seemingly routine. He was there for several weeks, and everything indicated that he would be going home, but on the day he was due to be discharged it escalated quickly into something that he would never recover from. He was induced into a coma in an attempt to save his life.
David was a fighter. We had been in situations like this before, so it was nothing new, but this time it was different.
While I hoped that he would pull through, based on the medical results and what the specialist had told us, deep down I knew that this was it, and it hurt.
While David was in the coma we had been playing his favourite music. The specialist maybe said he could still hear. We clung to anything that would bring hope.
It was a few days before Christmas, and I was travelling to see my family. I stopped by the hospital to wish David a happy Chirstmas. As I sat by his bed side, with all the tubes coming out of him, I took his hand and held it in mine. I touched my forehead and nose to his, Maori style.
Something compelled me to play a Buddhist prayer called, "Rest in natural great peace." by Nyoshil Khenpo Rinpoche.
I placed my phone gently on his pillow by his hear, and played the prayer to him. When it was finished I said goodbye. kissed him on the forehead.
"See you on the otherside David."
I left the hospital.
Later that week I got a call from David's wife. She was in bits. The family had decided to switch off the life support machine on 30th December - David's birthday.
She was heart broken. So was I.
Late January 2016, would be the next time that I saw David's wife and his family.
St. Oswalds Church in Norbury was packed with all those who's life David had touched. Family and friends from over the years, all ages had come to pay tribute to this wonderful human being. Even part of the care team from St. Georges hospital had unexpectedly come to say a few words.
I too had the chance to speak.
When someone like Clifford" David" Campbell dies it leaves you stained.
You feel grattitude for that fact they were in your life, but at the same time a sharp stabbing pain in your heart because now they are gone.
"Coaching is releasing a person's potential to maximise their own performance. It's helping them to learn, rather than teaching them."
When I look back at the relationship that David and I had, I smile and wonder which one of us was really the coach.