Meningitis Now staff member Helen Hillier

Meningitis survivor Joe Clarke wins gold at Rio!

Helen Hillier 11th August 2016

Canoeist Joe Clarke, who survived bacterial meningitis as a teenager, has won the K1 Canoe Slalom, and is bringing home gold for Team GB

Joe Clarke Gold

Joe first began canoeing through his scout group, and then his local canoe club at 11, which is relatively late to begin a sport competitively. Being young in his year group, he found that those around him were almost a year older and were much stronger and more experienced than him.

Speaking to the Staffordshire Newsletter, his father, Shaun Clarke, said: "He was advised by his coach to switch to one of the less competitive disciplines if he ever wanted to represent the national team.

"But Joe was not interested and wanted to continue paddling kayak as he has always believed in himself.”

At 15 Joe fell dangerously ill with bacterial meningitis contracted from an airborne bacteria leading to an abscess behind his eye.

He was treated with intravenous antibiotics for two weeks in hospital, and fortunately went on to make a full recovery, but missed out on joining the junior canoeing team.

But with the support of his family, and fellow canoeists Robin Vasey, Peter Willet and Robert Holdway, Joe got back into training, and really began to well and outperform his fellow paddlers.

Joe’s training included working with the elite coach, Neil Buckley and taking part in training programmes in the UK and abroad.

For Joe’s dad, Shaun his success at Rio is all down to his determination to do something he loves, despite his set-backs.

Shaun said:

"It is an example of what can be achieved when as a young person you have a dream and the unconditional support of your parents and family."

The race which took place at the Deodoro Whitewater Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, involved clearing a course of white-water rapids without hitting any barriers. Joe’s winning time of 1 minute 28.53 seconds was 0.17 seconds ahead of Silver medallist, Peter Kauzer from Slovenia, and far ahead of the Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec who won the bronze medal.

Joe’s win brought in the second gold medal for Team GB so far in the games. About his win Joe said: “There has been lots of ups and downs but it is just fantastic. 

 “For sure I’ve had some luck and you need a bit of luck in this sport to excel and that has come today. I don’t know what I did to deserve that but I obviously did something right along the way.”

Find more information about how meningitis can be contracted here.