‘My best investment: wine. My worst: Bitcoin’
Ed Jackson’s rugby career ended suddenly at age 28 when he broke his neck after diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool. The former Bath, Wasps and Dragons No 8 was left quadriplegic, with the best he could hope for being enough functionality in his arms to control a wheelchair.
More than five years on, he is up on his feet and climbing mountains for his charity, Millimetres2Mountains.org, and others. He has also carved out a successful career as a public speaker and television presenter on Channel 4.
What was your first job?
My first real job was as a rugby player, straight out of school. It was a dream come true, as a 16-year-old basically playing PE for the rest of your life. I think my first contract was £13,000, which wasn’t much looking back, but as we were training every day and didn’t have many outgoings it felt a lot.
Were you still living at home?
No. My dad kicked me straight out. He’s very much a “you’ve got to make your own way” type of guy. However, he owned a place, which I and three other rugby players at Bath shared. And he actually charged me £100 more a month in rent than my friends, which I thought was child abuse at the time! That was the Yorkshireman in him.
Did you have a ‘Plan B’ if rugby didn't work out?
About five years into my career quite a few of my peers were having to retire through injury and the players association encouraged me think about a post-rugby career.
Reluctantly, I did a degree in leadership and management, which I ended up really enjoying. It helped my rugby, providing a distraction from the sport. It also kept me more level headed, as rugby can be a roller coaster, with all the highs and lows of selections, injuries, contracts and so on.
When I finished the degree I spoke to friends. One, who was in insurance and commercial property, seemed to be having the most fun and was always on the golf course. So I did a Masters in real estate finance, with a view to going into commercial property.
What were your expectations after the accident?
I broke my neck, had spinal cord injury and was left completely paralysed from the shoulders down. Within a day, though, I had some sensation back.
At that point they told me I’d never walk again, but I might get use of my arms back so I could use a wheelchair. This was kind of what I came to accept, initially.
As it was, I got lucky. I’m now independent and back on my feet. I’m still quadriplegic, which seems a strange term, but all it really means is all four limbs are affected. I’m not a full quad, rather a walking quadriplegic, and there’s a whole load of us hobbling around.
How did you respond to the prognosis?
I was terrified. It didn’t seem real, going from being a professional athlete to being the complete opposite. What moved me beyond focusing on “why me” and “I don’t want to be here anymore” was hearing I’d be reliant on my family, forever. This spurred me on to spend every waking moment just trying to move something. It wasn’t that I disbelieved the doctors, but rather I knew I could never forgive myself if I didn’t try.
Within days I could wiggle my toes, and four months later I could get out of the wheelchair and move about on crutches. Progress is slower now, but at least I can walk.
How did you get into fundraising?
About a year after the accident, I set myself the challenge of climbing Snowdon. I didn’t think I’d get to the top, but I wanted people to see I was on my feet.
I guess I had a shop window because of the rugby, so I was being contacted via my blog, which logged my progress, with people wanting to join in.
I thought a few people might turn up, but there were around 70 there to offer support and to walk. We shared our stories, walking side by side, and it all started from there.
What causes did you raise funds for?
Millimetres2Mountains started out fundraising for a spinal unit in Nepal, which we still support. The main aim now is to help other people who have been through trauma. We run a beneficiary programme, whereby we take people who have been through physical or psychological trauma on an adventure, so they meet others who have been through a tough time, and talk.
We realised that this was beneficial while it lasted, but many were just slipping back into old patterns when they got home. So, we starting to fund ongoing life coaching, training, therapy, whatever’s needed.
We also have smaller community projects designed to get people out and about, on community walks for example.
How much have you raised?
Millimetres2Mountains has raised about £300,000 and I’ve probably raised a similar amount myself by taking on challenges for other charities such as Restart, the rugby charity.
What's the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced?
We were climbing Himlung Himal on the Tibet-Nepal border in March, aiming for the height record for someone with a spinal injury, which we achieved. Anyway, there was an accident on the descent where our guide fell down a crevasse. We were stuck overnight on the mountain at minus 30C (minus 22F) and all ended up being rescued by helicopter. That was a close call.
What is your biggest indulgence?
Putting my feet up with a few beers. After a challenge, I feel I’ve earned it.
Are you a spender or a saver?
Spender. Not on material things, though. I love to travel, so a lot goes on flights.
Do you have any pensions and investments?
I do, but I’m not very good with money in that respect. I have people I completely trust who take care of that for me.
What has been your best money decision?
My friend from university owns a wine investment company called Cult Wines, and I invested some money in their wine about six years ago and it has outperformed any other investment I’ve ever made. I could take a bottle out and drink it, but
What has been your worst money decision?
Bitcoin. But luckily, I didn’t put much money in. Hopefully it will turn back around.
What’s the best money lesson that you’ve learnt?
Before, I directly associated my self-worth with the number on my contract. Now I want and just need enough money to have a roof over my head, be happy and be able to do the things I love.
The charity, for example, isn’t my job. I don’t make any money from it. I went into public speaking and television work, things that aren’t time restrictive but pay reasonably well, so I can pursue my interests. This mindset shift, from associating money with self-worth to viewing it as a means to an end, is probably my best money lesson.
For more information about Ed Jackson’s charity, including on forthcoming trips to Petra, Nepal and Norway, see millimetres2mountains.org