By former Army mechanic Nikki Maxwell
I served in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers attached to the Second Royal Tank Regiment of the British Army. As an armoured vehicle mechanic I learnt to fix pretty much anything you can think of, from Challenger 2 main battle tanks to motorbikes, cars and trucks.
I served all over the world and like everyone sadly I lost friends and knew people who sustained terrible injuries. I wasn’t injured in combat, but back home on leave. I was riding a bike when I was hit by a car head on, and lost my right leg above the knee.
The recovery has been brutal. The injury happened back in 2012 but I have ended up having endless rounds of operations after corrective surgery did not go according to plan. I am not sure exactly how many times I was in the operating theatre, but at one point I had 18 months of operations almost back to back. I was keeping score, but after I’d spent 250 hours under general anaesthetic, I stopped counting.
That side has been tough, but I’ve never let it hold me back. Ever since I was in the rehab centre in Headley Court I saw how important it was to have a positive mindset. Not to think about what you can’t do, but to look at yourself, be glad to be alive and set about seeing what you can do with the limbs that you have left.
I have also always been aware of the importance of physical exercise for mental health. Not just to keep in shape, but as a way of giving yourself challenges and keeping motivated. That’s ultimately what led me to dedicating a tremendous amount of effort to becoming a Para canoe athlete and winning silver medals at three consecutive World championships.
Getting into jiu-jitsu has also been amazing for me. I started just before the lockdowns began, so like everyone have had the nightmare of not being able to train. But now that the gyms are back open it is amazing to be on the mats again.
Using prosthetics can be quite a tricky business, as they often need adjusting, particularly after surgery. The nice thing about jiu-jitsu is you do away with any of that and just use what you’ve got.
Mechanics are problem solvers, and having a missing leg is just another problem to be addressed. Of course it means there are some things I can’t do, in jiu-jitsu just as in everyday life. But I work around them, find a solution.
I have really enjoyed jiu-jitsu from that perspective, it is challenging for anyone, particularly when you start out. And having one limb missing just adds to the challenge. But I love surprising people and doing things that they don’t expect me to do.
I train at Gracie Barra Nottingham under Victor Estima and Melanie Doran (pictured). I recently got a fourth stripe on my white belt, so I’m new on the jiu-jitsu journey but I love it and I’m very proud of what I have achieved so far.
My days of fixing tanks are over, but my skills as a mechanic still get put to good use – I have helped pretty much all of my friends and neighbours fix their cars at some point. And if my mechanic’s logic can help me navigate my way through the ranks in jiu-jitsu, I will be more than happy.