Paralympian Richard Whitehead forms a unique friendship with a 6-year-old amputee boy


Not every little boy can say he has a top athlete as his best buddy, but William Reckless is not your average little boy.

The six-year-old, who lost both legs to sepsis three years ago, is best friends with Paralympian Richard Whitehead, who encourages the youngster to follow his dreams.

William, who has additional surgeries later this year, met Richard through his foundation, which works to help people with disabilities and get them access to sport. The athlete, 46, who has two gold and two silver medals at the Paralympics, is currently training for the Paris 2024 Games.

“Richard was such a great role model,” says William’s mother, Gemma. “He made a great impression on William and showed him what can be achieved with two prosthetic legs. medals to his name, is currently in training for the Paris 2024 games.

“Richard was such a great role model,” says William’s mother, Gemma. “He made a great impression on William and showed him what can be achieved with two prosthetic legs.

“Richard is truly inspirational but also understands the daily challenges William faces behind closed doors. His support to us as a family has been invaluable.”

Double amputee William Reckless, six, and his sister Georgia, four


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Richard Whitehead competes in the 200m T61 at the 2019 IPC World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai


(Getty Images)

Of his little pal William, Richard said: “I’m proud to be a mentor to him.

“William could definitely be a future champion in anything he wants to do, be it a gold medalist at the Paralympics, a race car driver or an astronaut. He just has to dream big.”

It was January 2020 when William fell ill. After Gemma, 32, picked him up from daycare one Friday, he realized he wasn’t his usual happy self. She thought he might have caught an insect, but on Monday he also developed a rash.

After visiting the family’s GP, Gemma, from Huthwaite, Notts, was told William had a virus.

But later that day, after her husband Mike, 40, read online that scarlet fever was making the rounds, the couple decided to call 111.

They took the advice to take William to hospital – but after he was taken to the resuscitation unit Gemma realized something was seriously wrong.

“I remember they kept pressing his rash and the room filled up,” she recalls. “I thought he might have meningitis but the doctor said no, he had sepsis. She told me to take Mike to the hospital urgently.” William was placed in an induced coma and taken to the Queen’s Medical Center in Nottingham.

Gemma says: “We were sitting in the waiting room when a doctor came in and said, ‘I’m so sorry, his heart stopped. I think you need to come and be with him. I collapsed and Mike literally had to pick me up off the floor.

“When we got to William, there must have been 30 doctors and nurses working on him. Luckily they had managed to get his heart pumping again. I screamed, ‘Please don’t let him die’.”

William Reckless as a toddler with dad Mike, mom Gemma and little sister Georgia


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William Reckless joins Paralympic Richard Whitehead for a run


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Gemma, who runs a gift shop, added: “We spent eight days thinking we might lose him. It was awful. We were too scared to sleep.

“Every time we left his side, we expected someone to come and tell us the worst. On the eighth day, I spoke to a doctor and said something like, “If he can do it.” And he said, ‘He’ll… he’ll make it’.”

But by then the disease had taken its toll. One of William’s lungs had collapsed three times, he needed dialysis because his kidneys had failed and doctors feared he would lose both ears from the infection.

An MRI scan also showed two areas of brain injury. Doctors tried various treatments to save Willam’s legs, but on March 2, 2020 he underwent surgery to amputate both limbs and nine fingers – and two years later he is doing “amazing”.

Gemma says: “His kidneys have fully recovered, he shows no signs of brain injury and he has learned to walk again with prosthetics.

“He’s currently struggling with his left knee which is slowing him down and frustrating him but he’s here, he’s happy and he’s healthy. His determination is phenomenal. He’s never felt sorry for himself.’ Gemma says animal-mad William has a ‘thirst for knowledge’ and his favorite subject is sport.

“We call him our mini David Attenborough because he can provide facts about so many animals,” says Gemma. “He’s very smart. As his parents, we understand the long-term impact and how much harder everyday life is for him.

“But our focus is on the fact that he’s still with us after coming so close to losing him. That takes us further.”

Richard Whitehead and six-year-old William Reckless with one of Richard’s medals


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Gemma shared how William’s little sister Georgia, four, also helped him recover after his surgery. “She never seemed to notice that he was missing his legs, she was just glad to have him home,” she says. “Georgia shows no regard for him and that really spurred him on.”

Gemma said the staff at Williams’ school, Tibshelf Infant and Nursery, were also “brilliant” and the other children “didn’t bat an eyelid when he left his legs lying around in the classroom”.

She adds: “Right now he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up, but his biggest ambition is to be able to walk. He was working towards this when the problems with his knee became apparent and until he has had surgery it will not be possible.

William Reckless refuses to let losing his legs hold him back

Richard, on the other hand, is overwhelmed by the youngster’s determination. He says, “When I look at William, I see echoes of myself at that age … the same determination and resilience, the same hunger to experience life.”

Richard is determined to help William – “and all the other Williams” – get better care and the same opportunities in life as able-bodied people. His charity, the Richard Whitehead Foundation, organizes events for people with disabilities and works with local authorities and the NHS to give them better care and quick access to prosthetics.

Richard recalls: “My parents had to fight for everything.”

The athlete had to wait until he was 28 before he could swap his “heavy, unwieldy” prosthetic leg for the carbon fiber legs he’d always wanted.

And he took it so well that he completed the 2004 New York Marathon just 13 days later.

Richard says of William: “I look forward to seeing him grow up and run better and faster than me.”

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