Paul McNamee: What we can learn from Rick Clement

"Cut in half, Rick Clement is determined to walk again. Yet his focus is not all on himself..."

I met Rick Clement for the first time in May. I was nervous. I’d spoken to him and we’d swapped texts but we hadn’t met face to face.

Our paths crossed initially last November when we put him on the cover of The Big Issue to mark Remembrance Sunday.

The cover photo of Rick, in his dress uniform, was taken by Bryan Adams. On first glance, it looks like a serving military man sitting down. And then you notice he has no legs. None at all. The image shocks. It is brutal and honest but there is a dignity to it. It speaks volumes about the sacrifices made by those who serve, and about the challenges so many face when they return home.

On that night in May we were in a very fine London hotel for an awards do. The cover was shortlisted as one of the PPA British magazine covers of the year. I thought about what I would say to Rick. Would I be natural? Or patronising in that way able-bodied can be, unintentionally, when faced by something that they’re not used to. In fact, how dare I even worry! I should count my blessings. So it is that internal dialogue chases itself.

Rick Clement is a quite incredible man

I shouldn’t have worried. Rick Clement is a quite incredible man. He has a stillness and a gentle peace that puts everybody at ease. And he is also more focused than anybody else I have ever met.

Don’t gloss over this. He was cut in half. He lost everything beneath the waist. And yet he was still determined to walk. Advances in technology have meant that prosthetics could be crafted to respond to the smallest muscular and nerve signals. Even so, the physical effort and pain he had to overcome in order to succeed and walk is beyond what you or I could stand. He has had MONTHS of this.

Telling me about it, Rick didn’t crow. He was going to be taller than before, he said, happily.

One thing that really chimed came during his acceptance speech (we won cover of the year) when Rick spoke of others. He spoke to his pals who didn’t come back from Afghanistan with him, and he spoke of people still trying to cope.

Despite it all, his focus was not on himself.

There are people around us doing incredible things, beating ridiculous odds. It may well be the vendor you’ve bought this magazine from, or the old chap on the bus you’ve never spoken to.

There are also people fighting crippling loneliness. Frequently, reports appear illustrating how corrosive it can be. Last week there was another – the Scottish Parliament said loneliness was as damaging to health as poverty and poor housing.

So, in the spirit of Rick Clement, let’s look out, look beyond and extend a hand.

The results could be spectacular.

If you have any comments please email me at: paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com or tweet @pauldmcnamee

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