By Richard Holt
The picture of two amputees holding their prosthetic legs aloft in celebration is one of the most memorable shots from the REORG Open. They look so delighted, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was their first ever Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. In fact, they are both seasoned competitors, but normally they fight against able-bodied opponents.
Paul Skivington, on the right, is a veteran of the British Army’s 9 Parachute Squadron, the Royal Engineers. He lost his left leg in a motorbike accident while on duty in 2001. That brought his Army career to an end but sport has been a salvation for him, playing golf, boxing and then getting into jiu-jitsu.
As a jiu-jitsu competitor he says that having one leg mostly makes things harder – the legs are used to prevent your opponent from advancing position and gaining an advantage. “It is super easy to pass my guard,” he said. “As soon as they switch on that ‘hang on, he’s only got one leg’ they just pass to that side and then I’m hanging on for dear life.”
I lost a leg and thought my life was over: podcast with Paul Skivington
But it’s not all disadvantages. Because of the missing leg he normally competes against people who are a bit smaller than him. “I’m a reasonably big guy, I would walk around at about 90 kilos but because I’ve got one leg I compete at middleweight, so 82.3 kilos. So that tends to mean I have a bit of a strength advantage.”
Scott Blaney was serving with the Grenadier Guards in Afghanistan in 2007 when he jumped into a booby-trapped ditch. He lost his right leg and sustained serious damage to his arm and one of his eyes. The injuries left him feeling incredibly low and at one point he contemplated suicide.
Scott was always sport-mad before the injury and it was starting to train again that saw him turn his life around. Like Paul he is a golfer, and then a few years ago he also started training in jiu-jitsu. “If you’ve had a bad day, you go to a jiu-jitsu class and roll, and you just get all that built up aggression and frustration out – it’s brilliant.”
He also competed in the able-bodied class at the REORG Open, taking bronze in his category. Scott then came up against Paul and the two had a “really good scrap”. Scott added: “It was quite intense, he’s a big guy and we really got into it. But it was really interesting, I’ve never fought another amputee, and because he’s lost his left leg and I’ve lost my right it meant we often cancelled out a lot of each other’s moves.”
Paul edged it in the end, but both veterans were delighted to be able to put their skills on display in front of their families. They will both be back next year, at a REORG Open that promises to be even bigger and better than this year.