ANDREW Neill is back among the wickets – given where he was once, it is a wonder he is back up anywhere.
For the Denton CC player was left thinking, ‘Is this it?’ as he broke his neck in three places and his back.
A day out mountain biking in North Wales took on a tragic turn as he came off and landed virtually straight down.
Knowing exactly what had happened straight away – he heard the crack – he knew his injuries were serious.
But after a gruelling regime of physio and recovery, he is now back doing what he loves best, bowling for Denton’s second team.
“I was in Llandegla Forest,” Andrew said about the accident that happened on December 1, 2019. “It was a lovely day, sunny but freezing.
“I was with my son, my nephew and one of my best friends at work – they were worried.
“We got the top of where we were going, about 10 miles into a 15-mile ride and I came down a steep descent.
“I hit a wooden boardwalk and some ice and went over the handlebars, landing on the top of my head. It was like diving off a diving board.
“I heard it crack and felt it. I knew what I’d done straight away. The scream I yelped still haunts my son to this day. That was part pain, part panic as I knew what I’d done.
“I felt it, but the noise was like something you’d hear on a film.
“After the initial panic, I waggled my fingers and toes, and they could move so I knew I’d not done anything seriously bad. It was just a case of lying still then.”
After coming off and hearing his father’s scream, Andrew’s son Ben – who plays American Football – used technology to his aid by managing to summon an ambulance in an area where there was little signal.
But the position of the accident presented its own challenges and produced a stirring response.
Andrew, 51, and of Denton, added: “My son had something on his phone that could contact the emergency services – but I was in a ditch for three hours.
“I was freezing cold, shaking and the ambulance came, then some other mountain bikers I didn’t know got me on to a special stretcher, clamped me in so I couldn’t move and then they had to carry me up the mountain to the ambulance.
“The ambulance people tried to get the air ambulance and the Anglesey sea rescue out. They were on a call at sea and the air ambulance wouldn’t come because of the danger of the rotors hitting the trees.
“The paramedics were superb. As I was so cold, they put heated gel packs under my arms and on my chest and organised the other cyclists to carry me up what was an almost vertical mountain face to get me to the ambulance.”
After being rushed to Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital, X-rays confirmed Andrew’s injuries and he was transferred to the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire.
After being treated there for five days, he was fitted with a brace, which he wore until March 2020 and scans showed signs of bones knitting back together – then came lockdown.
However, since June he has been having private physio sessions and earlier this month was given the news he had wanted to hear – the best thing you can do is try and play cricket.
And he made his return in Denton second team’s Greater Manchester Cricket League, division four east match against Saddleworth.
Andrew added: “The physio said, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ To which I replied, ‘You tell me!’
“But playing cricket again was my target. When I was sat in a chair in January 2020 feeling sorry for myself, in a brace and on my own at home, I thought, ‘Cricket. That’s my target.’
“I wanted to play last year but last summer I still couldn’t turn my head.
“My first physio session was in a hydrotherapy pool and I thought it was the easiest thing I’d ever done, until I got home and slept for about two days after that!
“It’s a lot of stretches to get my back loosened up. I look from side to side now. I still couldn’t hold a phone under my ear.
“It’s quite painful and tiring at times. Sometimes I thought, ‘This is never going to heal,’ but it has.
“My first game was all right. My neck was stiff after I’d stopped bowling but the following day it was fine. The only soreness I had was cricket soreness.
“But beforehand, I said, ‘I’m nervous.’ People said, ‘Why? You’ve played this all your life,’ but I said, ‘It’s just hard coming back,’ but I didn’t want to let the lads down.
“It was a relief I was able to get back playing and it felt good to get a wicket.”