Former RAF firefighter Darren Young is determined to play through the pain and help Great Britain’s sitting volleyball squad book a place at next year’s Paris Paralympics for the first time in more than a decade.
The 53-year-old, who was medically discharged after suffering serious back and neck injuries in an accident, must take off his morphine patch three days before each competition to comply with anti-doping regulations.
It means that each time Young takes to the court, including for this weekend’s ParaVolley Silver Nation League tournament in Nottingham – the first international sitting volleyball event staged in the UK since London – he does so in agonising pain.
“For each competition I have to go five or six days without the medication that helps me function as a normal person, day to day,” said Young, from Gillingham, Kent.
“I did a competition last year and it was the first time I’d been off morphine for four years. It was like going cold turkey. It was horrendous at times. But I’m willing to accept it, because at the moment when I’m out playing the enjoyment and adrenaline overtakes the pain.”
Having also been diagnosed with clinical depression, he knew he needed to find an outlet for the competitive spirit that had led him a promising junior football career, in which he was once briefly on the books of Middlesbrough’s academy, before being released due to an unrelated injury.
He said: “I did a competition last year and it was the first time I’d been off morphine for four years. It was like going cold turkey. It was horrendous at times. But I’m willing to accept it, because at the moment when I’m out playing the enjoyment and adrenaline overtakes the pain.
“I’d always been really competitive and sitting back watching sport on TV just didn’t tick the boxes. I didn’t know anything about sitting volleyball at the time but it’s one of those team sports that really changes you as an individual.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my family and my sport. I remember when I took all my patches out to commit suicide, and their vision came into my head and that’s what stopped me.
“I struggle every single day. I can be on the crest of a wave thinking about the next competition, and the next minute I can sit down for a coffee and it bites you on the backside. Depression is the worst feeling in the world.
“GB has given me a huge focus. I shouldn’t be representing my country in para-sport at the age of 53. But I’m here and I’m determined to help get the team to the Paras. We don’t want to be a laughing stock. We want to open eyes about what our sitting volleyball team can accomplish.”