Dan Buck­ing­ham

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - THE GRILL - Photograph by Emma Bass / Words by Jeremy Olds

How many mile­stones can one man fit into a year? In Novem­ber, Dan Buck­ing­ham heads to New York to com­plete his first marathon, that most an­cient and ar­du­ous of ath­letic events. Even more mon­u­men­tal, this year Buck­ing­ham bought a house – in Auck­land! What can’t he do?

Pri­vately, Buck­ing­ham last month passed an­other crit­i­cal point: he has now spent more of his life dis­abled than able-bod­ied. Dur­ing a rugby match as a Univer­sity of Otago stu­dent, Buck­ing­ham frac­tured and dis­lo­cated his sixth and sev­enth ver­te­brae, dam­ag­ing his spine. That was 1999. He was 18, and has been paral­ysed from the chest down since.

“No-one ever said, ‘You’ll never walk again.’ There was no harsh line drawn. Over time, I ac­cepted that this is the way it is,” he says. “The next year was hard, go­ing back to univer­sity, be­ing around mates do­ing things I was do­ing the year be­fore: play­ing rugby, even stand­ing at the bar when I was out for a drink.”

The way for­ward was to change tack, “head­ing to a dif­fer­ent life rather than try­ing to stay in my old life”. Buck­ing­ham played as a Wheel Black for 16 years and has won gold at the Par­a­lympics. Still, there are mo­ments of grief. When his par­ents sold their farm in the Catlins in 2013, he re­flected on ear­lier plans to take over the prop­erty. “It was some­thing that never got to hap­pen. Snip­pets like that along the way have been a form of grief. I don’t ever get an­gry. More just wist­ful nos­tal­gia for what could’ve been.”

Buck­ing­ham is com­pet­ing in the wheel­chair di­vi­sion of the New York Marathon to raise money for the Cat­Walk Trust, which funds spinal cord in­jury re­search. Be­fore his big race, we asked Buck­ing­ham to take the Sun­day Grill.

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