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Graduand defies the odds after life-threatening accident

Tom Holden will be graduating at Loughborough University this Thursday alongside his peers from the School of Business and Economics, but his journey at Loughborough has been a particularly challenging one to overcome.

He has always been a keen runner, having been a member of the Tonbridge AC squad, and started studying Economics at the University in 2015.

But one night in May 2017 after revising for his exams in the Library, he was hit by a car on a busy road as he was cycling home.

The result of the accident meant Tom spent one month in a coma, with doctors predicting there was only a 10% chance he could walk again, let alone run.

He started an intense rehabilitation programme, where he had to understand how to do things most of us don’t even give a second thought, such as speaking, eating and balancing, due to the damage caused to the cerebellum part of his brain.

“I had to learn to do everything again, from walking to talking to writing. I knew that I knew how to do those things, but my muscles wouldn’t obey my brain, so that was difficult. It felt like being a baby again, except I was 20 years old. It’s quite tough to deal with that mentally,” said Tom.

He was able to speak after two months and in August 2017, Tom started to gain the ability to walk again unaided. After six and a half months spent in hospital, he was finally discharged.

By November of that same year, Tom started learning how to run again.

Slowly but surely, he gradually saw improvement. A 200m run which initially took him longer than two minutes was soon reduced to just 36 seconds.

He credits his loved ones as a major influence on his progress over the last two years – most notably his mum, dad and sister, close friends, the running community, and also Loughborough University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Allison.

“The Vice Chancellor visited me quite a few times in hospital. His attitude was very much that he never had any doubt that I was going to return to University and finish my studies, so that motivated me to have a more positive attitude too.”

Tom had to take a year out of his studies to help with his recovery, and during his final year he had to put in significantly more time and effort in order to keep up with his peers.

He still struggles to write at speed, so he had to listen and take in as much information as he could during his lecture and then watch the lecture again back at home so he could make notes at his own pace.

He had received continuous support from Student Services who provided him with counselling when he made his return to studies in 2018, as well as guidance on what adjustments could be made for his exams.

Tom will join thousands of students this week at the summer graduation ceremonies who will all be celebrating their achievements. Despite a difficult few years and an ongoing road to recovery, he has successfully achieved a 2:1 (Second Class, Upper Division) Degree.

“To see me walk across the stage at graduation will mean a huge amount to my parents – they know exactly where I’ve come from. I don’t remember that first month as I was on life support. They had to see that and witness all of it,” he said.

“It feels good to be graduating so I can say ‘I did it’. I’m proud looking back because I know what happened to me was massive. I’ll miss Loughborough and the atmosphere, but I’ll always come back and visit.”

Talking about his recovery and what he plans to do next, Tom said: “Two years on from the accident I’ve moved on a huge amount physically. I’ve gone from not being able to move or talk to then running again.

“In terms of the future I’m not sure what it holds for me, but I think I’ll take a year out and carry on the rehabilitation full-time and then try to get on with my life and put this behind me.”

When asked what his advice would be to anyone else who has suffered a setback, he added: “It doesn’t matter what has happened to you, it only matters how you respond to it and overcome it.

“Take the first steps and let your loved ones support you, so whenever you fall back they can put you back on your feet and set you on your way again.”

When asked how his perspective has changed since his accident, Tom commented: “I think my outlook on life has changed quite a lot, I’m much more appreciative of the small things in life.

“Don’t take anything for granted, because you never know what’s around the corner or when something might end.”

Speaking about his account of the accident, Professor Robert Allison said: “I first heard about Tom when I received a phone call late one evening.

“A student had been knocked off his bicycle outside the University and the ambulance crew didn’t think he was going to make it to hospital alive. That’s when I first knew we had a student called Thomas Holden.”

He added: “Here is a young man that nearly lost his life who has not only got to the point where he is getting a degree, but he is also one of our sports stars. Tom has worked hard to overcome both mental and physical challenges. Can you imagine being in a situation where you have to teach your body how to move again?

“We will have thousands of people walking across the stage at graduation, but I think we can all be particularly proud of Tom for what he has achieved in the face of incredible adversity.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 19/100

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2019 QS World University Rankings, University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019 and top in the country for its student experience in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2020, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019 and 8th in The UK Complete University Guide 2020.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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