Sunday, 22 April 2012 02:30
By Eef Armstrong
Antigua St John's - “My arms were dangling and my face was down in the water. I couldn’t move and I thought I am not going to make it to the surface.
What a nice way to die in the ocean, which I love so much. I was happy to die. I was counting holding my breath. Three-and-a-half minutes, and just when I thought I couldn’t hold it any more, someone grabbed me and pulled me to the surface.”
Adrian Kirby, 40, remembers clearly what happened on December 26, 1993 at Half Moon Bay. “I was body surfing and I didn’t respect the ocean," he said. "I was going with a wave when it brought me over and I came down on my neck. It wasn’t a hard knock, but I was paralyzed immediately.”
At that time, Kirby, who had been working as a hairdresser in London, had been about to sign a contract with someone from St Croix to set up a recycling plant in Antigua. His accident brought everything to a screeching halt.
He was transported to Holberton Hospital by ambulance, and stayed there for a week as arrangements were made to get a special device that would immobilize his neck so he could travel to England. He was hoping that they would be able to fix his neck so his arms would stop floating around without any control. Little did he know, but that was only the start of his troubles.
Kirby was in the hospital for 13 months, and returned to Antigua, where he was to begin therapy at NSA Medical Clinic.
However, after Dr Joey John and Dr Matthews saw his x-rays, they gave him the bad news that his neck was still broken, and they wouldn’t be able to do therapy.
The hospital in England would not take him back, as they claimed they had already dealt with his injury, and with no money for health care, things didn’t look so good.
“Then this wealthy couple that lived on the island stepped forward and offered to help me," said Kirby. They flew him to Miami, where he underwent surgery. By then, 16 months had passed since the accident.
Kirby fidgets in his wheelchair while we speak, and explains that he has muscle spasms, and needs to keep moving to help his blood pressure up. Not a minute goes by that he is not in severe pain. “My nerve system is in a bad state, and I always feel like I am on fire," he says.
A few weeks later, he returned to Antigua. He noticed that it was very difficult to regain his independence, as those around him kept making him dependent. Again, the wealthy couple, who wished to stay anonymous, stepped forward and suggested Kirby needed more physical therapy.
They sent him for seven weeks of intense rehab in Miami. “It was like a switch went off,” Kirby said. “In England, I was told over and over about all the things I couldn’t do anymore, but in Miami they showed all the things I could do. It was then I was determined not to settle anymore and take back control over my life.”
"Turtle" (Kirby’s nickname) did more therapy and enrolled in a graphic design programme. He graduated with valedictorian honours and a 4.0 gpa. He managed to complete a four-year programme in two years and eight months. An internship at the Disney Channel followed, and then he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a freelance graphic designer for five years.
During that time, he had three major surgeries due to complications of his physical condition. “The recovery was brutal and took at least two months for each surgery," Kirby said.
Somehow, he knew he would always end up back in Antigua, as he loved the island, and so he came back in 2008. He started a t-shirt design and print company, and kept playing with the thought of opening up a shop. But he wanted to offer something that represented Antigua in a modern and fresh way. “I had never done retail before, so I had to educate myself and did research for about a year," he explained.
On December 4, 2011, Kirby opened the doors to Turtle’s Surf Shop in English Harbor
. “I am extremely happy with the sales so far, but even more happy about how excited people are about my products," he said. "Even before I opened the doors, a fan club had formed looking for my shop.”
Turtle’s Surf Shop is probably the "greenest" shop in Antigua. The clothes are of organic cotton, while the shorts and pants are made of recycled plastic. The sunscreen is natural, and even the hangers are made of recycled paper. He designs his own shirts and prints them with water-based ink.
The shop materials are reclaimed left-over building materials. Through his shop, Kirby still gets to do something with recycling, as that is one of his passions.
The ocean is another passion, and still part of his life. While in California, Turtle was introduced to an organisation called Life Rolls On.
They re-introduced him to surfing. “I lie on my front and steer with my elbows as someone pushes me into a wave," he said. "My love of the ocean has never changed.”
Kirby is very grateful for the help and support he received from those around him. His biggest fan and supporter is his brother, Adam.
“He has always been there for me and still is and I love him for that,” he said.
This Turtle seems unstoppable. He surely does not let his physical condition determine the course of his life. He has plans to get local artists involved in designing t-shirts. He wants to make limited editions with original Antiguan designs as a way to encourage local talent.
“This is just the beginning. I am full of ideas and more is to come," he said.