At the start of 2019, we learnt how driving has transformed the life of Alan Campbell. Viewers who watched the recent Countryfile episode, celebrating the RDA 50th Anniversary, saw Alan Campbell explaining to presenter Anita Rani how he discovered his love for carriage driving. Here is the interview with Alan, first featured in Carriage Driving in January.
We talked to Alan Campbell from the Garioch Carriage Driving Group, about motorbikes, MS and how driving with RDA has given him his confidence back.
Garioch Carriage Driving group, known as the ‘cheery Gariochs’, meets twice a week for driving on tracks and competition courses at Strathorn and other venues around Scotland from May to September. Their three turnouts support 15 adult drivers with a range of disabilities to develop and improve their driving skills. In the winter months, arranged talks and activities help to keep the team spirit alive and well.
Run by the irrepressible Ruth Skinner, Garioch is a friendly group that, in the traditional mould of RDA driving groups, enjoys the sociable nature of the sport, with tea and a chat built in to every session. That said, competitiveness runs deep at Garioch. Ruth and her team coach participants to drive and improve their skills, and for those that want it she provides as many opportunities as possible to compete.
In 2012, Alan Campbell was diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis, a condition that can cause a range of symptoms including pain, muscle weakness and paralysis, as well as memory loss, mood changes and depression. “I was an air-traffic controller,” explains Alan. “They took away my aviation medical certificate so I couldn’t do an operational job. My company were really supportive, but the only non-operational roles meant relocating and my occupational health specialist thought the stress of moving would make things worse. So I was medically retired.”
Coupled with the temporary removal of his driving license, losing his job was a massive blow. “I lost everything: the thing I loved doing, the thing I was trained for. It can get you down,” he says. A keen motorcyclist, Alan’s confidence on his bike quickly deteriorated, even after he got his licence back. “I used to ride my bike for commuting and for leisure – clocking up tens of thousands of miles a year. But after I got the diagnosis people started saying, “you can’t do that”. Soon I was barely using it at all.”
Alan was at a really low ebb when his wife, Karen, suggested he give carriage driving a go. Already a volunteer at Garioch, she knew the benefits and thought it might at least be worth a try. Alan wasn’t so sure: “Horses were never my thing and I had no interest in them. But I went along one evening. That was five years ago.”
Since starting at Garioch Alan has gone from strength to strength – both competitively and in his own wellbeing. “RDA has given so much back to me that I thought I had lost forever,” he says. He entered his first RDA National Championships in 2015, winning the Novice class. In 2016, he won the Intermediate and after a break in 2017 returned to take second place in the Open class last Summer.
In October 2018, he won both his classes at the SCDA indoor event at Fountain and now has his sights set on their next event in March. “The SCDA competitions demand different skills and are often more complex courses than RDA events, so we have to practice a lot,” explains Alan. “Since my diagnosis I have trouble remembering things, so this encourages and exercises my memory.”
The biggest benefit for Alan has undoubtedly been the ability to compete – something he thought he had lost forever after his diagnosis. “It’s great to compete again. It’s a confidence thing. It has taught me that, ok, you might not have that - but you have this. It’s proof that I’m not on the scrapheap.” And he’s even back on his motorbike again. “I have stopped listening to people who tell me I can’t do things. RDA has taught me that. I’d like to say thank you to all the volunteers and coaches - without whom none of this would be possible.”
Interview first published in Carriage Driving January 2019
The episode celebrating the RDA 50th Anniversary is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.