Martin Shittu, a Marketing graduate from the University of Essex and a member of 2021’s Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme, opens up about a life-changing event that transformed his life, changing his perception of disability sport as he returned as a para-athlete.
The motivation to win in sports and push performance to the limits is often seen at the highest level of elite sports, but sometimes this can come at a cost, and the risk of injury in some cases can be life-changing...
Raúl Jiménez is an example of this, a footballer who started his career playing for Club América, made the move to Atlético Madrid and now plays in the Premier League for Wolverhampton Wanderers FC. In November 2020, he suffered a serious brain injury against Arsenal when he collided accidentally with David Luiz.
Raúl Jiménez described it as a “lights off” moment when the incident happened, fracturing his skull in the process when he clashed heads. In some instances, this could give an athlete time to physically rest, reboot and recharge, whilst the brain uses this opportunity to recover and make all the connections it needs to rebuild itself. However, Jiménez miraculously returned to action just nine months later, in the opening game of the Premier League season; this was not without challenges and obstacles to get to this point. Jiménez now wears a specially designed head guard for protection in matches, and has had to make adaptations to his life following his incident.
It goes without saying that returning to sport following a significant injury is often accompanied with a ‘fear factor’ that can sometimes contribute to a slower recovery. As someone that has experienced a similar incident as Raúl Jiménez, I understand the courage it takes for players to go back onto the field once they have been injured, as there will always be a risk.
My story shows similarities to Raúl Jiménez, beginning my sporting journey playing football at grassroots, I worked my way up to play semi professional football, and additionally gaelic football. Unfortunately, I experienced a head injury that resulted in a brain haemorrhage and left me in a coma. Being in a coma for so long gave my brain a chance to rewire itself and make the connections to re-develop - in creativity, learning style and physical capabilities - but I had to work really hard to get to where I am today and adapt to a different lifestyle.
It was my passion for sport that kept my interest alive. To participate in a sport with a disability where you know there is the potential of danger can be terrifying, however, these athletes still compete because they love what they do.
Recovery can be a long road and takes patience and hard work. Upon returning to football, Raúl Jiménez missed a goal scoring opportunity, which resulted in Wolverhampton Wanderers’s defeat. He threw his head guard off in frustration, but continued to train and the following match scored his first goal since his return. It will have been a difficult road to recovery for Jiménez, something I can empathise with. I can safely say my love and passion for sport will be a constant factor in my life.
My experience with the Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme
Throughout the Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme, I have come on leaps and bounds from where I started in both my hard and soft skills. Having experienced a successful ‘request for proposal’ (RFP) process, this has ranged from developing my speech and public speaking skills, to speaking with CEOs and senior professionals within the sports industry about how they best market, strategize, and commercialise their services.
On my journey so far I have struggled to find employment, however Livewire Sport has given me real, hands-on opportunities to work in the industry. The first was a remote content producing experience for the 2020 Paralympics. I enjoyed every moment of this, from clipping footage, melting reels, and sourcing memorable photographs. I covered numerous sports including track cycling, football, wheelchair basketball and boccia, recording all of the best moments from the events to help our video editors to create highlight and compilation reels.
As I reflect on my experience with Livewire Sport and the Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme, I wrote a short poem that highlights my journey and the barriers I have encountered to break into the sport industry. Returning to sport as a disability athlete can present many challenges, but with persistence and determination, you can achieve anything.
Thinking of how you’d get to where you need to be in life,
see at first,
I thought I knew what I was doing but then I realised there was a world of opportunity.
The world of employment seems so awkward at times, and employers can be so hard to please.
Some people say it's money that makes the world go round but what if that only gets you down.
When money is the employer's main focus, they are bound to make mistakes.
The only consequence of this is that I'm the one who feels the major outbreaks of neglect.
What do I deserve, to know my own worth.
That struck a nerve right, but often you have no clue of the impact of your actions.
You Divide us up like fractions and all that leaves is a world of hurt.
An alert came and the Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme helped me to see past that,
See to be irreplaceable you must be different, it's motivational but essentially, we are unbreakable.
Some people only see value when it’s flamboyant but it’s the small pieces that leave a mark.
Some people see it eventually; I saw that first hand working on the Paralympics with Livewire Sport.
I worked on many sports like cycling, wheelchair basketball, and was amazed by the shots on the badminton court.
That taught me a lot, there will be people that downplay your achievements and you will have blind spots.
But it's making them see it. I also covered the five-a-side football in the Paralympics and the players had pads on their eyes to make the game equal.
We should make employers do that and create a sequel. An even playing field for employment too.
My story goes on from the field though, I played Semi Pro football and I had a brain injury which meant that I lost all my skills, only to come back alive to a battlefield.
There are so many things that can pull you down, like gravity,
We are very small in this solar system, like Mercury, but the Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme lifted me up.
The scheme gives you a platform to improve and provides a chance of bettering yourself.
You will face adversity in life but it’s questioning what's worth breaking and whether you have a resilient attitude.
Martin Shittu, #DiversityInDigital Mentoring Programme Graduate