Stumpy overcomes set backs with inspiration from his daughter Jade who aims to represent Britain at the 2020 Olympics, writes Rhona Jack. Pictures from Richard Wintle of Calyx
Remember Bruce Lee who famously did press-ups on his thumb and forefinger?
Well Robert ‘Stumpy’ McLeod from Swindon does 100 handstand press–ups at a time – partly because he can and partly because it’s easier than doing press ups with one only one leg, which takes an awful lot of punishment during his rigorous martial arts training programme.
Rob McLeod, 40, from Chiseldon – who introduces himself as ‘Stumpy’ – is simply inspirational. A quiet unassuming man, it is believed Stumpy is the only amputee in the UK who has a red stripe in martial arts, just four places off a black belt. He is featured in the September 2013 edition of Martial Arts Illustrated – see below
He never intended to go in for gradings but over the last two years under personal guidance of Matt Fiddes, and hard pushing from his instructors at the Matt Fiddes Martial Arts Academy in Cheney Manor, Stumpy has built up a repertoire of increasingly difficult, specially adapted moves.
He focuses on building upper body strength because he uses his hands to balance and kick, which foils able-bodied opponents because of the element of surprise.
As a human being Stumpy is full of surprises. He dealt with loss of his leg age 21 by ignoring the physical change and getting back to normal life and work as soon as possible. To his credit, he fully admits the motorcycle accident was his own fault for reckless overtaking.
He is not bitter because he has no-one else to blame. Taking responsibility for his own actions made his recovery easier, as did his Judo training which gave him superb balance. He said: "Doctors worked in relays through the night to save my life and said my fitness saved me. It was the main reason I survived the accident because martial arts discipline makes you physically and mentally stronger."
In spite of the loss of a limb, he believes his problems are no different than other peoples.
Nevertheless Stumpy has been through dark times in the last ten years or so. After his divorce and financial problems when his business folded he fell into deep depression and didn’t open his curtains for five long years.
He would collect his daughter Jade, now 12 years old on a Friday, do the shopping for them both and lived a normal life over the weekend, then didn’t eat for days at a time. Medical complications and self-neglect meant he lost all his teeth which severely knocked his confidence. He simply wanted to hibernate, which is common to many people in the clutches of depression.
Above, Rob working out with Matt Fiddes in the Swindon martial arts academy. Left, Rob and Jade
Sport and Jade were his salvation. After watching a demonstration by the Matt Fiddes Swindon Franchise outside Tesco, Jade joined up and has gone from strength to strength. She gets distinctions in her gradings and is on a Junior Instructor’s course. Her ambition is to represent Great Britain at the 2020 Olympics.
Stumpy used to accompany Jade and think to himself ‘I could do that exercise – and that one – and that one.’ After sitting in the wings for 8 months, he was invited to join in on a few exercises. Instructors welcomed him with open arms and an open mind. Getting back into martial arts gave him focus and energy he says. "The surge of endorphins from martial arts training make you feel better. You automatically feel happier. I’d rather get on with life and focus on the future."
His ambition is to become a black belt and fully qualified martial arts instructor for able-bodied and disabled people. He strongly believes sport has so much to offer disabled people in helping them overcome perceived limitations, develop their full potential and get them back into circulation with other people, which is the biggest antidote to depression.
Stumpy believes the Paralympics did wonders in raising awareness and he hopes funding and media attention continue at the same levels.
He is very competitive in a wide range of sports and has tried wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball (European Championships in 1998), rock-climbing and even ice-skating. He couldn’t continue with these because lack of funds meant he couldn’t travel to the other end of the country to train with the British teams. Like other athletes, sponsorship would make a world of difference.