Darren Swift was working in an arms explosives search team in Belfast, Northern Ireland when the IRA dropped a ‘Coffee jar’ bomb – a homemade Grenade - on him in May 1991. Darren lost both of his legs and his teammate, Jordy, died that day.
After going through 18 months of rehab, he decided that he was going to continue to do what he was doing before the incident – except now without legs. Swifty wanted his dignity back. In the following years, he tried canoeing, hand cycling and eventually became the first skydiver (together with one of his mates) with no legs (above knee amputee).
Eventually, he got a bit bored of skydiving. One day, he found himself drinking some quality wine in the Italian mountains, when he saw some guys sending it down on snowboards. That’s what he wanted to do from now on!
Back home, him and his mate drew up something that looked ride-able – something that might work (this turned out to look nothing like the board he is riding today). Loads of people said that he wouldn’t be able to do it – ‘’you need knees to snowboard, you are not able to ride without knees.’’ But in his own words ‘’they said the same about skydiving so….bollocks’’.
It took 14 years to finally get to this current board design. A professional company got involved and added suspension as no knees means no suspension. The femur, pelvis and spine take up all the impact, that is why he is only doing small jumps and side hits. He also has to be a bit more route selective than most snowboarders. He broke two ribs on his first snowboarding trip – things didn’t come easy.
Swifty nearly made it to the last Paralympics but missed out by a small margin. He was doing well on some competitions and even managed to ‘beat’ people less disabled than himself. He would have liked to compete in the Paralympics, but feels that he might be getting to old now – he will be 56 for the next one and would rather see some younger people go. He appears to get a lot of energy out of coaching others these days.
As soon as I saw Swifty ride down with a giant smile, I knew I had to write up his story. It fascinates me that the people who endure the most adversity are usually some of the most upbeat people I come across. When you meet Swifty, you will understand what I mean. He doesn’t regret or resent life in the slightest. ‘Fate’ might have dealt him some interesting cards – but that’s no reason not to live. I feel that I can learn a lot from people like Swifty – he is a true inspiration.
It’s good to know that you’re out there man!