“THERE’S no place for you here yet.”
Never has a statement been more correct.
For Purton’s Darryl Ritchings, his home debut for Swindon Robins should have been a dream come true, but instead it plunged he and his family into a living nightmare.
The 19-year-old left Blunsdon in the back of an ambulance following his horror heat two crash against Coventry on April 3 but, although he had suffered a broken ankle and possible knee and elbow injuries, initial brain scans at Great Western Hospital revealed Ritchings was in the clear despite being knocked unconscious and suffering a seizure following his collision with Bees reserve Jason Garrity.
Within 15 minutes of being given the all-clear, doctors changed their prognosis to reveal Ritchings had in fact suffered bruising to his brain and he was sedated before being rushed to the John Radcliffe in Oxford for treatment at one of the world’s leading brain units.
Three attempts to wake him came and went with the young rider too aggitated to be brought round but, with a resting heart rate the same as Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt (35bpm), after he was successfully brought out of sedation on April 15 he was soon wheeling himself around the hospital’s intensive care unit.
After astounding doctors with the speed of his recovery, the youngster is now back at home in Purton with his remarkable family surrounding him and, although he suffers from headaches and blurry vision, you wouldn’t believe he had only just come out of a fortnight-long sedation.
He’s as bright, witty, cheerful and honest as he was before his accident, with the only visible difference being the knee-height cast on his left leg and the stone-and-a-half of missing body weight.
The front room in which the youngster currently spends most of his time is filled with cards from friends, family and fans, while hundreds more messages willing him to make a recovery were sent by Adver readers and users of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.
The rider himself has revealed he was unaware of any of these during what turned out to be his two-week sedation – aside from one familiar face who was able to pass on, in no uncertain terms, the thoughts of the Ritchings family, Darryl’s friends and the speedway public as a whole as they all willed him to make a recovery.
“I had some weird dreams in there while I was sedated and it was a very strange experience for sure,” Ritchings said. “I lost my nan last year and I had dreams with her in it where she was pushing me away and saying “there’s no place for you here yet.”
“I’ve always believed in some sort of afterlife, of heaven, but to be sedated and to see my nan, and for her to push me away, was very odd although it was nice to see her.
“I can’t really explain it but I do remember seeing her and her talking to me.
“Once I was awake I had to learn to talk again, how to feed myself and how to cope with everyday life. I’ve done that pretty quickly and I think everyone at the hospital was amazed because I was wheeling myself around ICU and I don’t think anyone could believe it.
“Before the season started I trained so hard in the gym just to get into Swindon’s team and that has paid off I think because the fitness has really helped me.
“I do feel tired a lot and I suffer with a little bit of blurry vision, like a thick head you get when you’ve been out on the beer, but it certainly beats being in sedation in hospital.
“It’s hard at the moment because things like going up the stairs and going to the toilet are really hard work and everyday life is a task, but I’m just lucky to be alive.”
Ritchings, who intends to resume his career once he has fully recovered, has no memory of the crash which put him in hospital but has been informed of the events of April 3 by those closest to him, making him realise just how lucky an escape he has had.
“I felt nervous before the meeting but the only thing I remember from the night was working on my reactions with my brother before my first ride and then also the parade because I was waving to Poppy and Shelby (Ritchings’ 10-month old daughter and partner) who were on the back straight,” he said. “That’s all I remember.
“I’ve seen pictures of the crash since but I don’t remember it at all, I don’t remember the start and I don’t remember anything else at all about the meeting.
“I’ve been told all about it, all about the crash, but I’ve only seen photos and it was obviously a pretty bad one. I feel lucky, very lucky, because I really didn’t know how bad it was.
“I’ve seen the state of my bike and that makes you know how bad it was. It was a mess, £1,500 worth of damage I think, but that really doesn’t matter at all.
“When Declan (brother and mechanic) got to me he said he could see I had hit my head and that I was bleeding from the mouth after I bit my tongue and from my head too. I was unconscious at first and then woke up and tried to walk but didn’t realise I had broken my ankle so fell back down. That’s all from what I’ve been told because I don’t remember any of it.”
Ritchings has been amazed at the support and encouragement he has received from the speedway community, while financial support is set to come from the Speedway Riders Benevolent Fund as well as from collections held at Swindon, King’s Lynn, Plymouth and Dudley. The biggest effort of all though came from Lee Kilby, son of legendary Robin Bob, who raised more than £2,000 cycling from London to Swindon wearing a full speedway race suit ahead of the Robins clash with Poole on April 18.
The teenager has no idea what the money will go towards at this stage, although he did admit a holiday for himself, Shelby and Poppy is up on the list, “The support has been amazing both in and out of speedway and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing at all,” he said.
“I haven’t had to see what my family have seen because I was obviously sedated but they were there every day, holding my hand, and they have all been amazing.
“I couldn’t believe how much Poppy had grown when I first saw her after coming round, she’d changed so much, and I’m just so glad to see her again.
“I’ve had so many messages on Facebook, Twitter and other things. Even Lee Richardson’s wife messaged me on Facebook which was a lovely thing.
“When I got home all the cards were still in the envelopes and that was amazing but to see Lee (Kilby) do what he did is amazing. It was such a generous thing to do and I’m very grateful.
“He has raised an awful lot of money and I really don’t know what I will do with it at the moment. It’s nice to know that it’s there.
“The one upside of all of this is that I can now spend a lot more time with Shelby and Poppy, instead of rushing around all over the place, and it’s going to be great to have more time to be a dad.”