Your Ambition Creates The Future

750 people gathered in Queens University. Half of them were there to receive their degrees and half were there in proud support. Queens asked me to speak to the graduating class of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Nursing and Midwifery prior to the conferment of their degrees, after which I would receive a Queens honorary doctorate.


Graduation day was the 4th of July 2012; the week saw the 2nd anniversary of a fall that broke my back. I was reflecting on the early days in intensive care and, more particularly, on the people, including some of you who read this blog, who were ambitious about my prospects of recovery. For the students in The Great Hall in Queens, I suppose, I wanted to plead for ambition for them, for their subject and for the people whose lives they will save and whose dignity they will restore in the future. Who knows, some of them might just be part of the pioneering science of cure discovery? And so I finished my speech with: “Be brave, be different and be ambitious”.


In the 1940s, Papa Guttmann, a Jewish refugee fleeing Nazi Europe was ambitious for the prospects of people with spinal cord injury. He found himself working in a small hospital in England….. A spinal cord injury was a terminal disease. Victims lay in bed for a few months, developed pressure sores and died through infection. Guttmann’s pioneering work resulted in the establishment of the first spinal unit in the world at that hospital in Stoke Mandeville, the hospital where 60 years later I had my spine patched with metal rods and screws. And in 1948, driven by a belief that physical exercise would benefit people with spinal cord injuries, he started what we now know as the Paralympic Games.


Now, life expectancy is at comparable rates with the average population. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games the athletes are branded Superhuman. It is now over half a century from a spinal cord injury being terminal to being manageable. Now I see new pockets of ambition around the world. For example, the people in Ekso Bionics. Only last week I walked 8,000 steps over 4 days in the Ekso Bionics’ robotic legs. To see me walking in Ekso, go to


The Paralympians from around the world are rewriting the record books, as Guttmann rewrote the rules. And so too can we. Be brave, be different and always, always be ambitious.


Any thoughts on ambition? Any resources for us on rewriting the rules? Ted Talks, your own work or your own story – I would love to hear from you.

4 Responses to “Your Ambition Creates The Future”

  1. 1 Keith McCabe September 3, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Mark, brilliant story and very true.

    Ambition for me has been to tackle my first marathon in Dublin this October. I have done a number of triathlons over the last few years with the run section always my weakest discipline, so I decided that what better way to tackle it head on than by putting myself into run Dublin.

    Training going well so far, starting to up the distance on the runs and will no doubt give it my best shot.

    Keep it going and doing what you are doing, ambitious is now written on the wall at my desk, I will keep you posted…

    Stay strong and positive as ever,

    Best, Keith

    • 2 Graham September 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      fantasic Mark
      i bet everyone at Queens were blown away with your kind/true words.
      i had a fall very similar to yours which happened due to sleep walking, luckily my spine stayed intact.
      i have been attending the pain clinic and i am now going to receive facet joint injections.
      When i walk i have constant pain in my leg,back,hips, it feels like i am walking on broken glass and there is a nail being pushed into my heel, i am hopefull that this is going to work so that i too can participate in one or two activities that can make a difference to someone, thank you for keeping me strong and thinking positive, peaceloverespect is all we got and now ambition!, i wish you the very best.

      thank you


  2. 3 Mr Ulster September 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    My good wife had a massive stroke earlier this year and epitomises ambition. Although the ataxia was severe, she’s monthly, weekly, daily getting closer to walking unassisted.

    Recently, for example, with me we walked 200 yards on Rossnowlagh Beach in Co. Donegal.

    Next week we fly to France.

    As for rewriting the rules, you and my wife are the inspiration — do what you want to do, get professional and personal support from wherever you have to, and just do it!

    Thanks for another awesome posting, Mark.

  3. 4 Anne malanaphy October 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Watched you on rte late late show, you are truly inspirational, may you continue to achieve all your goals, no matter how unrealistic they may seem, your sheer focus and determination nothing is impossible, I work with spinal injuries patients and you inspire me mark to continue my work, will follow your journey and I wish you well.

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