An intrepid oarsman who rowed across the Atlantic single-handed to raise £30,000 for a Midland charity has been forced back to dry land after suffering a stroke.
Richard Wood was preparing to make a 20,000-mile round-the-world voyage with five other rowers - but after an arduous training session, he returned home with a headache and went to lie down.
But when he awoke an hour or so later, the former youth worker struggled to haul himself upright and realised something was wrong.
Mr Wood’s life changed without warning when he suffered a sudden stroke on December 11, 2006.
He explained: "I’d been to a training session at Warwick University, preparing for the world attempt, and I’d felt like I had a cold coming for a week or so," he said.
"By the time I got home I had an awful headache so I went up to bed to lie down for a bit, but later when I tried to get up to use the bathroom, I couldn’t.
"Somehow I managed to manoeuvre myself out of bed but fell to the floor and my left arm was trapped beneath my body. That’s when I realised something was seriously wrong.
"Usha was out shopping at the time but when she returned she called for an ambulance immediately and I was taken to Worcester Royal Infirmary, where I remained for four-and-a-half months."
The fit 51-year-old had been drawing up an ambitious plan to become the first person to row non-stop around the world, less than eight years after he began rowing.
But instead of spending hours training, Mr Woods has worked with physiotherapists for months to re-educate the left side of his body, to help it relearn how to move and walk.
While doctors at Worcester identified that he had a cerebral arterial dissection, where one of the brain’s main arteries had split, they remain unsure as to what triggered the stroke, as his condition may have been dormant for some time.
Last August, the father-of-three started having seizures, and as a result can no longer drive.
His trans-Atlantic adventure, during which he lost the rudder off his custom-built boat, had had some "hairy moments", but Mr Wood admitted the stroke, and subsequent seizures, were far scarier than anything he encountered on the high seas.
"What the doctors did tell me was that my level of fitness may well have saved my life," he said.
"I can’t explain how scary this situation has been, and still is. My first fit happened during a hydrotherapy session, which terrified my physio, so as well as losing most - if not all - of my independence, I have no idea when the next seizure will strike.
"I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. It’s very tough to go from being an active, independent individual to someone who can’t drive and has to rely on others for help."
But Mr Wood is determined to keep afloat, and still dreams of returning to his rowing challenge - which has been postponed. He has taken up art and healthy living courses at a local college, is director of a community radio station, and has just returned to the gym.
"I would love to go back to rowing but in light of what happened I really had no choice but to postpone the round-the-world attempt. I couldn’t let the crew down at the eleventh hour, it seemed better to call it off now, but it was a tough call to make," he said.
"I’ve managed to row 1,000m on the rowing machine as part of my rehab, that was a big milestone for me, which is weird considering I’ve rowed 3,000-plus miles across the Atlantic. It’s a good sign that I’m starting to build up my stamina bit by bit.
"What I’d really like though is to get back to work, but I’m acutely aware many employers may not want to hire a disabled man in his 50s.
"I’d love to work for someone like St Richard’s Hospice, who the trans-Atlantic row was in aid of, but will just have to see what turns up.
Mr Woods added: "I’m determined to remain motivated, to battle back to fitness and perhaps get the rowing challenge back on track."