Name: Matthew John Brewster
Nickname: The Silverback
Speciality: Seated Press
Weight: 15st 7 or 98.4kg
Height: 5ft 9 or 176cm
seated press 2x16kg 10 mins – 72 reps
seated press 2x14kg 10 mins – 94 reps
seated press 1x24kg 5 mins – 34 reps
seated long cycle single-arm 16kg 10mins 66 reps
Seated press 16kg half marathon 425 reps
Quote: Believe in the impossible.
My life would change completely in early 1994
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m very much a sports fan and that’s been the case from very young. My family lived in North London until I was eight when we moved to the South West and being close to the sea and moors and much more open space made a lasting impression on me and as child of 8-11 years I recall many happy times that involved riding my bike, playing football, exploring the local woods which were quite literally across the road and on one occasion helping a couple of friends scale the wall into the schools swimming pool on a hot summery day, these were times when it seemed every day was sunny and school holidays lasted an eternity.
Summer 1983 meant the Plymouth Schools Athletics championship and I was representing my school in the 100 meters, I can’t remember where I finished but getting off the bus in the return to school I was knocked over by a hit and run car driver while lined up with the other pupils, the thing I remember most from this was my shattered right arm being in plaster all through a very warm summer, that Sumner turned into Autumn and the start of secondary school, however back then Britain was facing mass unemployment and my dad had been laid off work and unable to find anything else locally, the only option was to return to London which from what I was leaving behind was heartbreaking and I promised myself I would return.
November 1983 my family moved onto the infamous Stonebridge housing estate in North West London, it was a huge culture shock for me and the freedom that I enjoyed in Plymouth was now severely restricted and being attacked and knifed in a lift by an adult as an 11-year-old two weeks after moving in certainly makes you yearn for what you left behind.
Secondary school did very little for me, the only time people accepted or even spoke to me was when I played football and banging the goals in playing center-forward given that I had a useful left foot, I don’t look back on secondary school in London with any fondness at all and needless to say couldn’t wait to leave.
My first job out of school, well full time was with a small film company where I stayed for three years until late 1991, even then though there was always the option for a kickabout with the football in the warehouse section.
Late 1991 saw me have enough of London so after a bit if exploring other parts of England I crashed landed back in my spiritual home of Plymouth in summer 1992, during the period from 1991-93 I dabbled with a few sports from badminton and tennis to dabbling in some boxing.
My life would change completely in early 1994 when I first met Vikki the amazing love of my life, love at first sight that’s for sure and we’ve been together ever since and four super children and one gorgeous granddaughter later we are close to celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and though life throws its challenges, my wife is very much my soul mate and we handle life’s challenges as a team.
I’d kept fit as young children always do keep you fit but apart from bouts of weightlifting didn’t really participate too much in sport, though still very much a sports fan as an armchair devotee, some of this was down to nagging keg pain that I put down to a muscle strain in the upper legs but when I was finding putting on socks difficult it was time to get checked out properly and after various blood tests and x-rays in March 2008 I was diagnosed with a degenerative bone condition called Avascular Necrosis, as a rare condition I was generally left to self-research and teach myself to adapt to oncoming mobility issues and chronic pain.
After a period of wondering what I’m going to do as an active father with even more active children I started looking at what options were open to me as I started to use crutches to get around in order to try and slow the progression of my condition and having seen the Plymouth Half Marsthon pass through my area every year it was always one of those things when I was able bodied that I would do next year, but never did and in May 2010 I decided to give the Plymouth HM a go…….on crutches, this raised a good amount for charity and while I did almost finish last it gave me a real sense of achievement and a desire to do more including a 10k in my wheelchair in a cancer research UK race around Plymouth City Centre, so in 2011 I decided to enter 6 road races from 10k to Half marathon distance in my no frills wheelchair around Devon and Cornwall, by the end of 2011 I ended up doing 12 races, all very different and always with plenty of support from people, one thing I did learn was that any event that said it was undulating terrain” simply meant lots of big hills that really tested the shoulders, again it was a great opportunity to help fundraise for charity and achieved my target there and ended the year with an award from my local newspaper.
2012 saw me do fewer road races and even though I had acquired a racing wheelchair by then I was beginning to find some of the events a bit too wheelchair unfriendly and not as great a challenge, so in 2013 I went back to a sport I had dabbled in a few years before which was Indoor Rowing and as there was a competitive online competition as well as other challenges this was a sport that was giving me the edge I needed, and I didn’t have to hump a wheelchair up a gravel hill either which was particularly appealing, but by the end of 2013 I was wanting a definitive challenge that would be a good charity fundraiser, be eye catching to get attention that may inspire young or disabled people to try sport as well as show what para-athletes can achieve in endurance sport, so after asking my daughter’s school if I could use their facilities on Sport Relief day in March 2014 I set about preparing to set a World Record in para indoor rowing over the 100,000 metre distance which after an eventful 10 hours or so I finally completed, with some incredible support from the school, family, friends and my youngest daughter who was my coach for the day, the BBC interviewed me mid row which was amusing as they had to keep retaking as each question came midstroke and trying to answer questions while still trying to breathe. The World record was eventually beaten but I still have the certificate to say I did it first.
The trouble with setting a world record I found us that you come crashing down some weeks later thinking what’s next but I stuck with indoor rowing although I couldn’t really hit that peak of excitement with the sport that I had before going for the 100k record.
Going into 2015 I had every intention of trying a new challenge in rowing but a bout of pneumonia put me in hospital for a while and after recovering I couldn’t get back to my best in rowing so decided to call it a day and after a crazy few months where I thought it would be a good idea to take my wheelchair up and down the obstacles at skate parks it certainly raised an eyebrow or two amongst the skateboarders and the BMX riders.
Looking for a new challenge I was watching the World’s Strongest Man on TV and out of curiosity I googled to see if there was a disabled version and to my great surprise there was, so as I had a garage, I slowly acquired the equipment and so began my journey into disabled strongman, I made regular video updates of my strongest events and prepared to enter competitions based on the disciplines I was good at.
Sadly an unexpected house move meant the end of my strongman phase and I had to sell the garage full of equipment, at first this seemed like the end of my sporting ambition but again another Google search took me to a webpage about Kettlebell sport and further researching this seemed like a sport that covered all bases, strength and endurance, although I didn’t see any disabled folk taking part I acquired some Kettlebells and straight away got into the sport as a seated athlete learning quite quickly that I was good at strict press and long cycle but snatch seated is a no-go for me, and half marathons are certainly more enjoyable with a Kettlebell than a wheelchair uphill. I’m at the start of a hopefully long and enjoyable journey in Kettlebell and hope to see the para-kettlebell scene grow in time, I post regular videos of my progress and enter any online events and attend anything else I can get too, and I’ve managed to convert my youngest son who is now taking his first steps into the uplifting world of the Kettlebell.
Did they catch the person who did the hit and run?
No, sadly the school and the teachers in charge of the athletics trip made a mess of the whole situation and the driver got off scot-free having driven off unchallenged.
What was your role in your first job?
This was in the late ’80s and films would generally be shown on big reels of cinefilm and most films at that time from the big studios like Warner Bros and Columbia would be shown in American cinemas first and then a few months later would appear in UK cinemas so our main job was to get these used films in the best condition possible to look as good as new for British audiences, we would also remove things that the censor would want to be taken out, so it was a great job as we would always see films long before anyone else in the UK would see them and uncut as well.
Can you tell us more about Avascular Necrosis?
Avascular Necrosis is a fairly rare disease where the blood supply to certain joints stops, like skin bone regenerates and if the blood supply to those joints is lost then the joint degenerates and dies effectively leading to a collapse, it can affect knees, shoulders, the jaw, elbows but in my case affects the femoral heads in the hips, as its degenerative it does majorly impact on your mobility so I alternate between using crutches and a wheelchair as no two days are ever the same, it does come with a fair degree of discomfort and factoring in as well the fatigue that can also come with a chronic condition, the only surgery is joint replacement which when done have a limited lifespan so its a case of waiting until I’m the right age before getting prosthetic body parts.
How did you deal with this when you were first told about your condition?
After having X-rays etc., I thought it would just be a touch of arthritis that I had but I was told what I had over the phone on a Thursday lunchtime that I had this condition called “Avascular necrosis” along with secondary osteoarthritis and that was it, left for me to digest that and basically I did as much research as possible into this as I wasn’t given any information about what this condition was or where I went from there going forward, so initially I just went into a get on with it mode as I had four young children to think of, so was a bit busy to feel sorry for myself not that I would in any case.
How does one get this rare disease?
It varies, it can develop in a number of ways, through alcohol and steroid misuse, some cancer patients can develop it after chemotherapy or there’s the idiopathic group which I’m in which is “no known cause”.
Ever wanted to give up in one of your races?
There were moments when I thought to myself particularly when I was trying to haul a wheelchair not suitable really for gravel up a gravel hill and hills with bends that you couldn’t see the top of, that I wondered why I was doing this, but at no point did I consider giving up as my own pride wouldn’t let me fail and its not my nature to give up and so I would rather finish last which given the terrain I often did than be seen as one of those with people saying I was one of those plucky disabled people who turned up but wasn’t up to the task and have people feel sympathy for me.
How a race be ‘wheelchair unfriendly’?
Well, when you watch the professionals in wheelchairs at events like the London Marathon for example they are fast courses and generally quite flat, not to mention the chairs they use are around £5K for even a simple bespoke racing chair, when you’re self-trained, self-funded and living in a location that is known for its hills, etc., it was a case of pick events that were reasonably close to home (as I had to drive home afterward as well), so in the vast majority of races I was the first person using a wheelchair crazy enough to take on some of these road races and I remember one half-marathon feeling like 12 miles of uphill and one mile of reasonable flat, however I had set myself a challenge both personally and for charity and I know my efforts had inspired at least one little girl to try sport in her wheelchair.
10 hours of rowing, that’s tough! Why did you do this?
I decided to do it for a number of reasons, it was for Sport Relief in 2014, it was a chance to show pupils at my daughters secondary school that sport really can be for all and not just for a narrow group the media likes to cultivate, and looking through the record books at the time it was a challenge there to be done and a friend on Facebook already held the lightweight rowing version of the 100K record, so it was an extra incentive to try and join him in the record books.
What are some of the Strongman lifts that you do?
I was training for the disciplines I thought I would have the best chance in and the equipment was easy to get hold of, as its difficult to do a truck pull in your back garden at the best of times, so things like the dumbbell lift which was around 30kg, seated deadlift which I was getting to around 150kg, log lift or an overhead press which I replicated accordingly with weights and a strengthened tricep curl bar which I got up to 80kg on, the crucifix hold or as I called “instant torture”, 10kg in either arm held straight out in a cross style for as long as you can manage, I think I got to 40 seconds with that and my favorite of all, called the Thors Hammer or the forward hold, a weight of around 15kg held arm outstretched for as long as you can which I got to 75 secs on.
You now do KB Sport lifts, have you ever thought about bringing this to light more, to inspire other para-athletes to join in on the love for KB’s?
Yes, I have thought about spreading the word and have tried and publish my videos on as many pages as I can, it’s not easy I have found to spread the word about Para Sport and those in higher places only seem interested in the young or the worthy and without wanting to use this forum to be controversial, there’s a lot of face fitting and snobbery and a hierarchy of disability when it comes to promoting para-sport, which is sad as there is so much untapped potential out there out there.
How often do you train?
A lot depends on my general well-being at the time, being disabled I already start out with an injury as it were, then factor the level of chronic pain I may be in at the time and then the fatigue that comes with this, it can be a case of as and when but on average four times a week.
Who inspires you to keep doing what you’re doing?
Without question my family inspires me to achieve, when I did the 100K row at my daughters school, my younger daughter Caitlin stayed and coached me for the whole day and when I hit the several walls I encountered she gave me the inner strength to carry on, but my wife wonderful Vikki and my other children, Chloe, Calum and Lewis all inspire me in their own way and now I have a granddaughter Mia too so keeping as optimum as possible is important there too, and in spite of my limitations I want them all to be proud of me and its a central driving factor to keep on going well into old age, I hope!.
My son Lewis is just starting into Kettlebell too, so I’m helping him along in that, although I’m not sure if it’s for competition or to impress the girls or both, but fingers crossed soon I will have a training partner with me to go to future events with.
Matthew Brewster is a member of our 11,000+ strong kettlebell training community on Facebook.