50 Years on: the Next Leg of his Journey

David Burke by Nancy Farmer
David Burke, Camlough Lake… and David’s leg!

In August last year a message appeared on Facebook from a lady called Martina, asking could I paint a commission of her husband for a 50th anniversary. I hadn’t generally been taking on commissions for the last 2 or 3 years, and I was mentally already half way through a “really sorry I haven’t the time…” when what she had actually asked fully dawned upon my consciousness.

My train of thought did a quick double-take: “Wait, 50th anniversary of what?! That’s too good a story.” Followed by a second thought: “I’m still one picture short of a full calendar for 2023.”

And so, this September – the month of the 51st anniversary in fact – my calendar features the remarkable David Burke, in the picture I drew last year for his 50th anniversary, and this is the story that goes with the picture:

“50 Years on: the Next Leg of his Journey”
David is known for his swimming ability: he’s an open water lifeguard and also teaches swimming. In relay teams he’s swum the English Channel once, and the North Channel – between Scotland and Ireland – three times. He’s known for his ability, and for his disability, because he’s done all this with just the one leg. The last North Channel relay team was “Bits Missing” a team of 5 amputees which David had long wanted to put together to help others achieve their goals. “5 swimmers, 5 legs, one goal” – a goal they achieved on 22nd June 2022, in 15 hours, 8 minutes and 13 seconds.
David was only 7 when at a stock car race a car came off the track and hit him. He lost his leg, but not his life. He is of the view that he was lucky, and the loss of a leg hasn’t held him back, and has made a habit of marking the anniversary of this accident. And so, on 19th September 2022 David ‘celebrated’ a highly unusual 50th anniversary: half a century without his leg.

The picture was a compositional challenge: in real life a technically impossible view that was nonetheless just about possible by taking outright liberties with perspective. In the foreground is David’s prosthetic leg, in the background is the view that should actually be directly opposite, in the centre distance is David swimming away across the lake but still big enough in the picture to be able to make out the ‘Bits Missing’ design on his hat. None of this conforms to the camera’s eye-view. My sort of composition, I like a challenge.

But most of all what I love is the inspiring story behind this picture, the very fact that I was asked to draw it, and my thanks to Martina Mcgarvey for that opportunity, and also for coming up with the title. And I hope you will particularly appreciate this in September, if you have one of my calendars (in the shop, unless they are already sold out). Until then I have more to entertain you with through Spring and Summer….

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