When mountain-bike racer Tommy Wilkinson suffered a life-changing injury in 2013, it left him bereft of a sport in which he had spent the last 10 years competing.
Having formerly raced on the World Circuit, Wilkinson was a well-known racer on the UK national race scene, regularly featuring in the top 20 overall at British National Races and often being seen on the podium at Scottish Races.
After spending time in New Zealand, the Alnwick-based man returned to Britain in 2013, only to suffer a race-career-ending crash – damaging his spinal cord, fracturing his skull, suffering a bleed on his brain and ultimately paralysing his right arm for life.
After spending more than six months learning to walk properly again, Wilkinson, with the help of some of the cycling industry’s leading photographers, picked up his camera and began shooting.
Little did he know that he his talent for photography would lead him to great things and he has now been invited to a major international photography competition.
It is an inspiring story. Although Tommy might not have thought he could have reached this point after the accident three years ago.
Reflecting on the injury, he said: “Overnight, I went from being in front of the lens to lying in a hospital bed, not able to move a thing – not even my toes.
“Thankfully, I recovered relatively quickly. My major injuries, bar my arm and touch sensation in my left leg, resolved within a year.”
The crash didn’t deter Wilkinson from riding again. Far from it. He still takes part in the sport, with his arm in an exoskeleton.
Tommy added: “It’s a mistake I made when riding, it was my fault; I just ended up with a few injuries I didn’t expect. It’s not a big deal, you get up, dust yourself off and go again.”
After being put through some rapid and sometimes brutal lessons by industry photographers, Wilkinson found he was soon being published regularly and in the latter half of 2014 and all of 2015 he shot the full World Cup Circuit from the other side of the tape for a range of clients.
“As my fitness continues to improve, I’ve got back into the mountains more, I can now ride, albeit one armed, with a 16kg camera bag on my back and while I’m not fast at all, I can get to places that would take all day to walk to.
“I’m regularly up and down Scottish Munroes, and did a 6,000ft climb in New Zealand in January in one day on the bike, though it was tough.”
This perseverance has seen Wilkinson land an invitation to the prestigious Crankworx Samsung Deep Summer competition in Whistler, British Columbia.
As part of the world’s biggest mountain-bike festival, the competition sees five professional photographers from around the globe get three days to build a slideshow that encompasses Deep Summer in the Canadian resort.
The Samsung-sponsored competition offers prize money of $10,000 and is a chance for the photographers to build their own unique feature.
Tommy said: “I’ve got some fantastic people on my team, a great assistant and some great riders, including some Whistler locals like professional skier KC Deane; his knowledge of the area will be invaluable.”
The competition is judged twice, once by a panel of former competition winners, and in an online poll that last year saw 500,000 votes cast.
Event organiser Seb Kempstates said: “Just getting an invitation to Deep Summer shows you’ve arrived as an international photographer.
“But I know the photographers feel intense pressure over three days and nights to create something worthy of this now legendary competition.”
You will be able to see Wilkinson’s slideshow presented live on the website Pinkbike.com on Wednesday, August 17, and he is aiming to produce something that ‘excites and inspires people to get out and enjoy riding their bikes’.
His slideshow will be available for three weeks post competition on the Descent-World.co.uk website.
You can see more of Tommy’s work through tommywilkinson.co.uk and snapcollaborative.com
After the accident, Tommy wrote a blog about his injuries and the road to recovery. Read it at tinyurl.com/zlno8un
Tommy featured in the recent series of Further Tales from Northumberland with Robson Green.
He starred in episode four, in March, and took the TV star on a thrilling mountain-bike ride down Deadwater Fell at Kielder, which has some of the best single-track trails in the UK, with breathtaking views.
Robson managed to come away from the high-octane experience pretty much unscathed, but after completing the trail, he said: “Well, I didn’t fall off once ... I fell off six times!”
But the Hexham-born star added: “Kielder Forest is a man-made natural wonder and if you want to mountain bike anywhere in Britain, Kielder Forest is the place to do it.”