When I was 13, I wanted to be like Jimi Hendrix, but when I told my parents I wanted to play the guitar, they looked at me as if I was mad. I was born without a right arm: how was I going to strum chords? That’s when I designed my first prosthetic. I drew it on a piece of paper, then adapted a prosthetic I already had with a socket and a plectrum. It worked. I learned to play Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers. OK, I was never going to be Hendrix, but I had realised making my own arms was possible.
Doctors would say I’m a congenital right-arm amputee from birth, but I don’t really use those terms. I was born in east London in the 1980s. I took inspiration from my dad who had more than his fair share of hard knocks, and was caught up in the polio epidemic of the 1950s. My parents instilled in me an attitude of “there’s no such word as can’t”, so they shouldn’t have been surprised about my rock star ambitions.
Maybe it’s because I want people to know I can do anything, but I’ve always had a daredevil side. If I see something that looks fun, I have to do it. I started learning karate from the age of five and took up kickboxing in my teens. In my early 20s, I competed in karate jutsu kai, one of the oldest forms of karate, which was openweight. That means you fight anybody, from able-bodied people to 20-stone fighters. There are videos of me fighting a 6ft bloke in a village hall – and winning.
In my mid-20s, I told my limb centre I wanted to get into mountain biking, but the prosthetics I was shown wouldn’t have survived a ride along the seafront. Instead, I took a standard forearm prosthetic and, where the wrist would usually be, attached cleats from the bottom of a cycling shoe. Next, I built a bracket with an engineer friend, screwed it to the handlebar, measured it up, and popped my arm in; it worked great.
Limb centres are not overly happy with patients fixing themselves to moving vehicles – they might get nervous about me falling off when I’m still attached to the bike – but I designed mine using a specific pedal that could release quite easily if I was going to have an accident.
The thing about being a thrill-seeker is that you are always looking for the next challenge – especially if it’s something people think you shouldn’t be able to do. By my 30s, I had decided to ride motorbikes. I have a 2003 Honda Fireblade set up to have a clutch and a brake lever on the left side. I needed something for my right arm that pivoted and moved, but from which I could be quickly released. Again, I got a standard hospital forearm and built a metal plate with a stainless steel ball on the end that clicks into the handlebars.
It’s not perfect. When you accelerate, you have to pull on the handlebars, and it can pop out. I’ve never had any proper accidents, although I’ve done a few unintended wheelies. You get a twitchy bum when that happens. I’m not [Italian champion] Valentino Rossi, but the sensation I get from riding the bike is unbelievable. It’s a feeling of speed, freedom and anonymity.
I don’t want to stop here. I’ve started doing a bit of 12-gauge shooting in the US, and would like to make a little prosthetic that can attach to my rifle. I want to make a prosthetic for climbing, too.
I now run a company called Casualty Resources. We provide amputee role-players and special-effects makeup artists for military, emergency services and private sector trauma training. If you want to recreate a terrorist attack where someone has lost a leg in the blast, for example, you bring our guys in. Because of that, I’ve been dunked in water in a sinking ship in Sweden, cut out of cars by fire services and hoisted through oil-tanker hatches in the Baltic sea. We also build legs and arms that are as anatomically accurate as possible and can be amputated at the scene. You can trap a whole leg under a car without it touching a person, and it gives students the experience of cutting someone’s leg off.
Every time someone has told me I can’t do something because “that’s just the rules”, I’ve done everything I can to prove them wrong.
• As told to Jack Needham
Do you have an experience to share? Email email@example.com