13 February 2024

"I’ve always been told I can’t do things, now I’m showing everyone I can" - Liam McGarry

I was a bit of a naughty boy at school, a bit of a class clown. I had too much energy and struggled to fit in – I always found myself getting into sticky situations that I didn’t need to be in. So sport was always a safe haven for me; I knew I was good at it, and I was fearless too.

As a kid, football was my first love, and without sounding big-headed it was obvious quite early on that I was pretty good. I made my way up through the ranks, captaining the London County side and winning the Kent league. I played centre half and revelled in the physical side of my game. l loved getting stuck in, loved a tackle, but could also play a bit when I had the ball at my feet.

Liam celebrates with his youth football team

I still wasn’t enjoying school though, and teachers would punish me for any bad behaviour by taking my sport away from me, as that was the only way they thought they could control me. But it made me worse as I didn’t have the escape that I needed.

So when I left school without much in the way of qualifications I wasn’t too bothered – I worked on building sites and played non-league football for Maidstone, then soon after I turned full-time with Dartford FC. But that’s when things changed – I didn’t like the politics involved. I still loved the game - I’m a lifelong West Ham fan – but I knew being a footballer wasn’t for me.

I decided to go back to college to study sports science, where a coach called Ian Harman kept hounding me to join the rugby team – I was big and strong, although I’d never played rugby in my life. I kept knocking Ian back until one day I bumped into him looking flustered. There was a college tournament going on, but they didn’t have enough players and so I agreed to play. I ended up winning player of the tournament: what I lacked in skill I made up for with passion and drive. I don’t think you can teach that - the grit, the will to run through a wall.

I ended up playing rugby for England colleges, then went to Bournemouth university, arriving with two broken metatarsals. I cut the cast off my foot so I could make my debut for the university rugby team - I’d go through hell just to be able to play sport, it was my escape, where I could properly be myself and feel like I completely fitted in.

Liam returning to watch his former rugby team

That’s why I always say that although my spinal cord injury was in many ways the worst thing that ever happened to me, it was almost like God’s way of saying ‘your strength has always been your strength, so be strong’. I see that as one of the silver linings from my injury; no matter what sport I’ve done, my physical attributes have always been my strongest. And now I can be strong for a living.

After my first year at university I had my injury and everything I’d identified with in terms of being a sportsman I thought I’d lost. It wasn’t until I went to the 2018 Spinal Games and tried powerlifting that I realised this wasn’t the case. I lifted 137kg and not long after was invited to a talent day at the Powerlifting base in Loughborough.

I immediately loved the sport as well as being around such a great group of people. I could sit in the gym and nobody could laugh at me or put me down. It was my trump card – let’s get on a bench mate and see who is stronger. I could go toe-to-toe with anyone.

I’ve always been told I can’t do things – whether that was at school, or by doctors after my injury. Now I’m showing everyone that I can. Going through all that adversity as a kid, getting thrown out of different schools, in many respects gave me the tools to get through my injury. I have changed and I am a different person. I get a good feeling knowing that I found my path eventually. My 14-year-old self would be really proud.

Share this page