RIP Terry Nelson - an entrepreneur without limits
“Never, ever give up, Jonathan. You either give up, or you fight. There's no middle ground. That's what I try and pass on to others.”
When I heard the sad news that Terry Nelson had passed away, I thought it important to share his story again. Of all the entrepreneurs I have interviewed for BusinessCloud, Terry’s warmth and passion stood out above all others.
His Aqua Running hi-tech hydro buoyancy suits were already being used by the world’s top sports teams yet he was driven by a deeper calling, one hewn from personal experience.
Terry’s promising football career with his beloved Liverpool was ruined in his late teens by kidney failure. He then had to abandon a career in the armed forces as he battled through kidney transplants, spent 12 years on dialysis and suffered a leg amputation. He also suffered heart attacks and had a pacemaker and defibrillator fitted inside his chest.
Yet, ultimately, the adversity didn’t dampen his spirit. When my colleague Alistair and I visited him at his office at Liverpool’s Sensor City in 2018, he recounted his experiences without an ounce of self-pity – including the moment he finally agreed to accept a kidney from his brother Dean.
“I was close to death and he kept asking me about the kidney. In the end, I decided that I wanted to live,” he told us. “Everything changed then. This guy had given me the gift of life, so I decided to repay him by becoming the fittest transplant patient in the world.”
He ran the London Marathon within 15 weeks of his transplant to raise money for kidney research and went on to win gold medals at the British and World Transplant Games. However he was eventually forced to go on to dialysis and was largely confined to a wheelchair.
“Losing my leg and having a pacemaker fitted [years later] were water off a duck's back but spending six days a week in the Royal on dialysis was a complete nightmare,” he said of his darkest period.
At different times in his life, Terry’s “saviour” had been deep-water low-impact training. He combined his expertise in this area and elite-level training to found Aqua Running to create hydro-buoyancy suits.
Securing design patents and other business costs almost bankrupted him several times but, against all advice, he took the concept straight to Real Madrid. “People have a fear of failure, but I don’t. What I fear is 12 years on dialysis,” he said.
The Spanish giants helped him develop the sensor tech in his suits, which then manager Jose Mourinho described as “Real Madrid’s fourth kit” for their assistance in rehabilitating injured players. They were also used by Liverpool, Manchester United, England Rugby and many of the world’s other top sports teams.
However his deeper passion was to help people with severe disabilities such as children and military veterans. His eyes lit up when explaining how a lady called Amanda, who was paralysed from the waist down, was able to run for the first time using the suit.
“She’s running towards the camera – just like Steven Gerrard when he kissed the camera near the corner flag against Manchester United in the FA Cup! The suit has changed her life.”
Aqua Running’s tagline is 'No impact, no limits'. The man who created it also had no limits – but his impact will be felt by many.
My thoughts are with his family and friends.