Stunning comeback for Stanbridge
John Stanbridge may not be the most high-profile name in this weekend’s World Cup competition in St Moritz but his story is definitely one of the most inspiring.
Stanbridge makes his top-tier debut when he pilots GB2 in the 2-man Bobsleigh at the spiritual home of sliding just a year after breaking his neck in Europa Cup competition in Germany.
The 33-year-old was told he may never slide again after the accident in Altenberg but incredible bravery, dedication and a deep desire to achieve his dreams of reaching this level somehow saw him get back in a sled in a matter of months.
After a week in hospital in late November and early December 2022 and an operation to repair a fractured C5 vertebrae and two ruptured discs, Stanbridge was back running after 14 weeks; weight lifting in early summer; beating his testing times on the dry push track in Bath in August; and earning selection for the season after receiving medical sign off in September. It’s been some recovery - and it’s all set to get even better tomorrow.
“I count myself incredibly lucky that I wasn’t paralyzed from the accident but I always knew I wanted to carry on sliding if I could,” said Stanbridge.
“I was trapped between the sled and the ice after the crash and I hit headfirst into a wall at around 50mph. I felt a crack or a pop in my neck and, although I initially thought it was muscular, within 25 minutes I was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Dresden.
“I remember being quite calm throughout the whole ordeal. I was fully aware of what was going on and I knew that things were out of my control and that panicking wouldn’t help. I was frustrated because I had been driving really well and was flying during official training. This was my first crash of the season after nearly 60 runs down without a hitch.
“There was a high risk of further damage being caused through the operation due to its proximity to the spinal cord and being told this by the doctor is quite a scary feeling. He mentioned that returning to sport might not be possible but I knew something had to be done and I didn’t really have any other choice at the time.
The first six-eight weeks were very slow but, as things progressed physically, I had a plan to move forward and a goal to work towards - that goal was getting back in a bobsleigh.
“I achieved that and I’m incredibly grateful for all the support I’ve had, whether it be from loved ones; from the RAF; from my coaches and team mates in the BBSA and outside the GB set up; from the hospital staff; or from everyone who sent me texts or messages on social media. It’s been a team effort and I’ve appreciated all the help I’ve had.
“The toughest thing I found during the recovery was the mental aspect. I’d been told by family and friends that I must be crazy to want to carry on after such an injury, that it wouldn’t be possible, but I knew I had so much more to give to the sport. I knew it wasn’t the end and that I was capable of more. I guess that’s the competitive side of me and the never give up attitude. Tomorrow is more proof that I made the right call.”
John Stanbridge broke his neck in November 2022
Just making it back in a sled would have been a huge accomplishment given the adversity he faced but Stanbridge has already achieved much more than that: he’s in the midst of his best season ever and is now on the eve of his opening opportunity to race against the very best in the world.
The Royal Air Force engineer recorded four wider podium places in five races before Christmas with a brace of sixth spots in Lillehammer and then again in Sigulda. He shattered his previous Europa Cup best of 12th in the process and went way better than his last four races prior to his injury when he placed 15th, 20th and 21st twice in late 2022.
“The return to bobsleigh has been more successful than anyone thought possible,” added Stanbridge.
“We’re currently fifth in the EC 2-man rankings with only Germans and Swiss ahead of us. We’re proving as a team that we have some real potential to be a competitive international bobsleigh crew and that the goal of qualifying for the 2026 Olympics is not out of reach.
For our first top-six podium at Lillehammer, I remember having a lot of emotions and not really being able to process them. It was almost exactly a year before that the accident happened and I was probably in disbelief. No one expected anything from us. I was just happy to be back sliding and enjoying the experience so to get a result like that immediately was a massive plus.
“I think that relaxed energy has translated into my driving. It seems to be working well for me and I’m getting more and more confident with every good result that we get.
“I’m really looking forward to my World cup debut - it’s something that’s been a key target since we started with GB back in 2020. I’ve had an amazing response from other athletes and coaches from different nations - it’s heart warming to see other people happy for me. The whole bobsleigh community is quite small so it’s a great feeling to be a part of it.
“It’s incredible that I get to share this with another RAF athlete in Alex Cartagena and to do it at the place where bobsleigh began in St Moritz on the 100th anniversary of the IBSF. It’s a new experience to be around and it’ll be interesting to see how we shape up against the very best. Whatever happens, it feels like we’re winning from where we were 14 months ago.”
Stanbridge has four wider podiums to his name this season
Stanbridge races at 12pm on Saturday, with Brad Hall and Taylor Lawrence also going for GB in the 2-man competition in Switzerland. Adele Nicoll kicks things off in the Women's Monobob at 8am that day, before Hall, Lawrence, Greg Cackett and World Cup debutant Leon Greenwood compete in the 4-man at mid-day on Sunday.
The action will be streamed live on the IBSF website and YouTube channel.