“Accept what has happened, irrespective of how appalling it is, because there is little point in dwelling in a negative way on what’s happened. You can let the experience drag you down or you can use it to be a rock-solid foundation on which to build. If you dwell on the negatives it will continue to negatively impact your life now and maybe for ever. One must find a way to use it as a foundation to move on and forward. If you don’t accept it, it can just eat your soul.”Jonty Warneken, Psychology, 1993
After completing his Psychology Degree at Hull in 1993, Jonty Warneken had plans for a career in the army or working in finance. Since the age of seven all he had wanted to do was be a military pilot and play rugby for his country. An horrific accident changed his entire life, though, resulting in severe injuries to his skull and his legs.
“I went straight from graduating in the summer to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst to begin my army officer training. I started having medical issues in the following January, and was sadly medically discharged in the July which was a real blow. Coming back from a job interview in late November, I crashed my beloved MGB Roadster into an oak tree near my parents’ home. I had multiple operations trying to rebuild my legs and skull and after five months I made the informed decision to have my left leg amputated below the knee. I was eventually discharged around six months after the crash on my mother’s 50th birthday.”
Jonty is not one to let adversity stop him. His dreams of joining the army and playing rugby professionally were over, but he soon changed his career path and has since had an extremely successful career in investment banking & management. He has worked his way up in large firms in London including Deloitte and PRU and has recently moved back to Yorkshire as ‘Head of the North’ at Brooks Macdonald. He has also not allowed his disability to stop him participating in the world of sport, pushing the boundaries of what is achievable and constantly testing himself.
“I have never felt like giving up, not once. I get days and weeks when things aren’t going right, work is stressful, I am tired, everything aches, my body, stump (as it is as I write this), ankle are or is sore, I have little energy to work and train etc and what I want to achieve looks further away than the day before, but I just somehow keep plodding on. I just tell myself that all I must do is keep moving, keep doing something positive. Hopefully eventually or sooner than you think, pain subsides, and you come back stronger or you learn to cope with it which enables you to keep moving. Either way standing still isn’t progression and you’re actually moving backwards as the world around you continues to move ahead. I sort of subscribe to the Churchill quote of “if you’re going though hell, keep going” and that I am lucky in so many ways to be able to attempt to do what I want to do. Most times the hardest thing in life is just starting something, that’s the hardest move. So I know if I start, then that 90% of the time that’s the battle won.”
Jonty has never wanted to be defined by his disability, and is driven to change the culture for disabled people. He had always loved swimming, and continues to push himself to the limits. He was the first disabled person to swim an Ice Mile worldwide and continues to be a part of the World Championships for Ice Swimming, he is on the board for the National Ice Swimming Society and they are hoping to become a Paralympic Sport in the next few years. He has recently signed up to be the first person in the world to complete an Iron Man and an Ice Mile and has been training hard throughout lock down in his gym, to ensure he is ready and prepared for this.
“Ice swimming is swimming long distance in open water (winter swimming is predominately short distances) where the water is below a temperature of 5c. To become a full member of the International Ice Swimming Association you have to swim one mile, in water below 5c, in just a standard bathing costume (no wetsuit), one swim cap, goggles and ear plugs. I was the first disabled person in the world to become a full member.
“I am supposed to be attempting an Ironman race in Austria in September and also an extreme version of it known as an “Xtri” in Patagonia in December. I have also signed up attempt to ‘run’ or cross-country ski a marathon in the Yukon in -50C temperatures in early February 2021 which poses certain physical issues on my prosthetic leg let alone my own body. After that we hopefully have the Ice Swimming World Championship in late February that I am hoping to go to and if able to, race the 1Km. However due to Covid a lot of these are beings postponed or moved so I am not 100% certain what I will be doing in the next year.
“One big dream is to be on the start line for the 1km race at a world championship (or even the Winter Olympics) and look down the lanes beside me, and each one is a disabled swimmer racing in the ice. We will get there as the sport becomes even more popular though as I am not the fastest swimmer, I may be too slow to make that race!
“Looking further into the future an English Channel swim attempt is on the list, and I fancy going to the South and North Pole too. If the Yukon race goes well then there is a much longer variant (100’s of miles) that I quite fancy attempting. It will depend on how my body and prosthetic react in February in such extreme cold temperatures. There is also Corbet’s couloir, a double back diamond ski run in North America that I am keen on skiing much to the concern of my wife.
“Outside of those, there are a multitude of endurance challenges I would like to attempt that few if any have been undertaken with someone with a disability, to see if I have the mind and body to achieve them.
“All this assumes I can continue to manage and tolerate the suffering caused by the pain in my limbs as anything that involves standing, walking and cycling (and ice swimming) etc causes various degrees of discomfort in my ankle and what’s left of my left leg. So if I don’t completely destroy my ankle; and my surgeon is happy I won’t totally destroy the ankle doing something where it then needs to partially or fully frozen; and if I can personally continue to physically and mentally manage the pain and suffering I have to endure to train and complete these events, I will continue to attempt these things. Life’s too short not to.”