Rio is a fun-loving 5 year old - he's also a young amputee with a passion for the Paralympics! He loves to run as fast as he can and enjoys watching YouTube clips of his Heroes, Jonnie Peacock, Oscar Pistorius and Richard Whitehead racing at the London 2012 games!
He was born with a one-in-a-million bone deficiency in his lower right leg (Tibial Aplasia), so he was missing the tibia, knee and ankle joint. We were told when he was 5 days old that he would need a through-knee amputation at 10-12 months, and after much heartache and extensive research with the top Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeons around the world, we made the agonising decision for Rio's surgery to go ahead, as we were told it was the only way to give him a life outside of a wheelchair.
The build-up to the operation - which Rio underwent at 14 months (it was postponed a few times due to recurrent chest infections) was far worse than the post-op rehabiliation, as Rio bounced straight back after the surgery and was his usual happy, chappy little self within a day and was soon crawling around all over the place! He received his first prosthetic leg at 17 months and showed us his determination and tenacity by finally learning to stand and walk independently at 2 years, 2 months - on the first anniversary of his surgery!
Rio was so inspired by The London 2012 Paralympics, which changed his life! Having been disheartened in the months leading up to the games because he couldn't run as fast as his friends with his heavy NHS prosthetic leg - which is rigid and has no knee joint - he was completely captivated and motivated by watching "people with special legs running", as he called them! Rio was so excited to see Jonnie Peacock win the T44 100m and Richard Whitehead win the T42 400m on TV, and then we were lucky enough to get tickets to the Olympic Stadium for the last night of the Athletics to see the original Blade Runner himself, Oscar Pistorius, win the T44 400m! Rio then became interested in running again and started asking us for a running blade, but we cannot get one on the NHS (under Hertfordshire PCT) and couldn't afford to fund it ourselves, but hoped he could still enjoy running, even with his heavy leg.
Whilst at the Greatest Team Parade, we heard about the Limb Power Primary Amputee Games at Stoke Mandeville the following weekend (15th September 2012), so we got in touch with Kiera Roche of LimbPower (a charity which supports Amputees - www.limbpower.com) who kindly invited Rio to join in the fun, and he loved trying all the sports, but particularly excelled at running on the track - that's where we first saw his new-found confidence and love of running!
Rio was desperate to meet his Paralympic Superheroes, and then by chance his dream came true on 23rd November 2012 - Channel 4 News contacted Kiera at LimbPower in search of a child amputee in London with an interest in The Paralympics, and Kiera immediately thought of Rio!
Rio was so lucky and excited to film the Channel 4 News promo clip for Sports Fest (http://www.channel4.com/news/jonnie-peacock-to-launch-paralympic-open-day), as he had the amazing opportunity to run on the track at Lee Valley Athletics Centre with Jonnie, and enjoyed meeting up with him again at Sports Fest on 4th December 2012 where Jonnie kindly presented him with a signed athletics shirt that he wore at the London 2012 Games, and even gave Rio a special mention in the video he made for SSPTV (www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsarklYMwrQ). He also enjoyed meeting all the other Paralympians there, and trying the varied Paralympic sports on offer.
It was after I sent the Channel 4 News video of Rio running to Dorset Orthopaedic (a private prosthetics and orthotics clinic) that Bob Watts (Managing Director) and Paul Neve (Prosthetist) very generously offered to sponsor Rio to make his first running blade, and they made it in just a few weeks, so that Santa could give Rio his best Christmas present ever on Christmas Eve 2012 when he presented him with his first running blade, decorated with his favourite cartoon character, Fireman Sam!
Rio was beyond excited to try out his new running blade, and was bouncing around on it within minutes - and he hasn't stopped running since! Our #BLADEBOYRIO can now experience a new sense of freedom and movement, and has a better quality of life as he can join in with all the activities that four year olds enjoy - he can now keep up with his friends, especially in PE classes where he used to struggle with his old heavy leg. Now Rio can run, hop, jump, skip and dance with BOTH legs - he literally has a new spring in his step!
NHS prosthetic legs are heavier than running blades and take up to three months to make before Rio can use them, so he quickly outgrows them. As Bob Watts explained in one of the media articles about Rio: "The blade and socket we have had made for Rio is 150g lighter than the NHS prosthetic legs. The blade is made out of carbon fibre which is very light, springs back into shape, and 95 per cent of energy you put into it will come back during running. The blade is guaranteed to last for at least a year, but as a child grows the socket will need to be replaced after six to nine months of use."
The complete running blade costs £4,000 - each new socket alone costs £2,500 and the blade costs £1,500, and of course, the cost of each complete running blade will increase as Rio grows up and needs bigger sizes of sockets and blades. For this reason, we have started a fundraising campaign so that we can continue to provide future lightweight/high-tech limbs for Rio throughout his childhood and beyond, so that he can continue to live life to the full and pursue his Paralympic dreams!
To raise money to provide lightweight/high tech prosthetic legs for Rio as he grows, and to raise awareness of the increasing opportunities for young amputees to enjoy sport and leisure through our favourite charities and organisations (see Sponsors and Links) - the sky is the limit and the world is their oyster!
Keeping up with Rio
Rio had the most amazing 2013 with so many fantastic adventures both at
home in the UK at some great para-sport events where he met his Paralympic
heroes - Alan Fonteles Oliveira, Jonnie Peacock, David Weir and Richard
Whitehead - and also abroad in Brazil where he was invited as a special
guest of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee to the School Paralympics in Sao
Paulo, to visit a rehabilitation centre and to spend time with Alan, and
then Rio went to Rio to meet the Rio 2016 Organising Committee to talk about
how London 2012 inspired him, to visit a school who hosted a mini-Paralympic
Games in his honour, and a hospital where he was introduced on stage at the
children's Christmas Party, as well as touring the beautiful sights of the
city he was named after and where his parents honeymooned!
The grand finale of 2013 was a visit to 10 Downing Street where Rio was a
special guest at a reception hosted by Samantha Cameron in support of the
charity Demand, who have designed and manufactured wonderful equipment for
2014 has got off to a very exciting start with Rio being given his new
running blade - the Ossur Junior Cheetah Xplore from Dorset Orthopaedic,
custom-designed with the characters from his favourite movie "Rio" - he is
the first child in the UK to receive this "Jonnie Peacock Special" blade
with a lifelike silicone foot, so now he can wear a pair of shoes with his
blade for the first time!
2014 is going to be another fun-filled, action-packed year for our young
aspiring Paralympian with the first event being WheelPower's Primary Sports
Camp at Stoke Mandeville on 22nd March!
Watch this space for 2013/14 updates on the Gallery and Media pages coming
For the most recent news and photos, follow Rio on Facebook and Twitter!