Back on Track

Partially paralyzed in the Boer War, British infantry officer Hugh Trenchard traveled to Switzerland to recuperate and took up tobogganing out of boredom. Because he couldn’t brake properly, he traveled dangerously fast, and one day the toboggan leapt over the bank and parted company with him in midair. “His body hit the side of the hill two or three times before coming to rest in a snowdrift nearly thirty feet below”:

When he came to his head was throbbing violently. Solicitious hands raised him. He pushed them aside in a sudden fury of excitement and happiness. He could walk again unaided. Whatever other damage he might have done himself as he bounced down the hill-side like a rubber ball, he had recovered the use of his legs. Apart from a dull pain near the base of his spine he felt no aftereffects. Something must have clicked back into place; he had cured himself by violence.

Before the accident he could walk only with sticks; now he threw them away. For good measure, he won the freshman and novices’ tobogganing cups for 1901. Biographer Andrew Boyle writes, “It was a singular achievement for a man with no previous experience, and for one regarded as a virtual cripple until the week before the event.”

Trenchard went on to play a central role in establishing the Royal Air Force.

(From Andrew Boyle, Trenchard, 1962.)