A man who was left almost completely wheelchair-bound after a freak accident is now an inspiration to disabled athletes around the country.
Martin Rooke, of Hedgeside, Potten End, suffered a broken back and punctured spinal cord when a building he was working on collapsed in 2005.
Now, less than three years into his sporting career, he is ranked world number one in the sport he describes as one of the most dynamic and exciting you could watch.
Martin began playing parabadminton in 2010, but after being made redundant from his job he decided to take on the sport full-time.
He said: “I thought, I’m still relatively young and still able to compete at a high level. I thought I would just give it a go and see how far I could take it.
“I’ll possibly go back to work in a few years’ time, but while I’m at the top of my game I want to give it a go.”
The 40-year-old has already achieved an impressive clutch of gold medals in national and international tournaments, and has only experienced one loss – in Spain – to date.
Martin, who also plays in an able-bodied badminton league, tours the UK giving demonstrations to young sports clubs.
He said: “I always enjoy going to perform because it does inspire the youngsters massively. It gives them a bit of incentive, and it’s an eye-opener.
“I want to raise awareness about disabled badminton – there are a lot of people out there who could participate, whether they are amputees, in a wheelchair or have cerebral palsy, for example.”
Parabadminton is not yet a Paralympic sport, but this is something Martin is keen to change.
It is currently under consideration, but the 300 competitors in the sport around the world have to wait until November of next year to hear the verdict.
Martin said: “A lot of disabled athletes go for Paralympic sports, but we need people to see how high the standard of parabadminton is, and how dynamic and exciting it is as a sport.
“We don’t find out whether it will become one until next year but it looks like it is heading in that direction. We just need to get a few more nations involved.”
Martin has recently returned from the Welsh leg of the sport’s Four Nations tournament, retaining his titles in the singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles events and coming home with yet more gold medals.
He is now preparing to enter the sport’s World Championships for the first time, held in Dortmund, Germany, this November.
“I will be competing again in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, although I don’t yet have a female partner. For me, the singles medal is the be all and end all.
“I’m just trying to stump up enough money for it – I am always looking for sponsorship. I get discounted rackets and equipment but at the end of the day I need flights and accommodation for the competitions.
“I would ask absolutely anyone that feels a little bit generous to help local athletes in the community.”
Martin, who lives with his partner Ruth Norman and her 14-year-old Sonny, is now gearing up for his debut world appearance, and is training hard twice a day, five days a week.
He said: “Now I’m mentally prepared for it. Without Sonny and Ruth I don’t think I would be where I am today.
“Ruth’s been there the whole way, in every way. She has been fantastic.
“I’m just hoping to do as well as I possibly can.”
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> See Martin in action in a video report on our websites.