DANNY Crates is Essex’s Paralympic hero and one of the most successful British Paralympic athletes of recent times.

A European and world champion, he won gold at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens in the 800m arm amputee section.

Crates, 39 – originally from Corringham, but who now lives in Heybridge, near Maldon – has become an inspiration to many people for the way he came back from extreme adversity to make the most of the opportunities life offered him.

Now, he has told his story in a new book, Danny Boy, which he hopes will encourage others to follow his example and not let disability stop them achieving their ambitions.

Crates’s promising rugby career was ended in 1994, when he lost his right arm in a horrific car crash in Australia.

Some 18 years later, the book looks back on a glittering athletics career with numerous highlights, including his Paralympic gold medal success, which also saw him break a world record in the process.

Danny Boy – co-written with his cousin, Jon Cudby – goes into a good deal of detail about his numerous sporting successes, but Crates insists the part of his life he most enjoyed looking back on was his youth in Corringham.

That, he says, is why he chose to launch the book at Thurrock Rugby Club.

He explained: “I’m still this cheeky Essex lad from Thurrock, really and I always have been. Although I’ve done lots in my life, and I’ve moved to Maldon now, my true roots are in Thurrock, particularly Corringham and Stanford-le-Hope.

“I didn’t want to launch the book at a posh hotel in London, with VIPs and a champagne reception. I said, ‘my mates and the bar at Thurrock Rugby Club – that’s all we need’.”

The message of the book – echoed in the talks Crates now delivers around the country as a motivational speaker – is about overcoming hurdles in life and taking every chance which comes your way. He said: “I’ve managed to do lots of things in my life, but it’s not because I’ve necessarily been very lucky.

“It’s just that when opportunities come my way, I grab them, and I go with them. They don’t always work out – not everything does in life.

“That’s what I hope the book does. I hope it tells people, if there are opportunities in your life, or things you want to do, then give it a go.

“We’ve all got mates who tell you in the pub what they could have done or what they could have been.

“I’ve always said I’d rather be the one who says I tried to be something. I may have failed miserably , but I tried.”

The autobiography is by no means simply about athletics.

It also deals with all the hurdles Crates has overcome since the car crash, and his many triumphs outside the world of sport – not least his qualification as the world’s only one-armed scuba diving instructor.

He adds: “We never wanted the book to be a boring sports autobiography which just talked about training programmes and the will to win.

“We wanted to write a story anyone could take on holiday and read, but with a bit of sport in there, if you’re sports-mad as well.”

I regained consciousness at the bottom of a 15ft embankment in the driver’s seat of a wrecked car.

Moments earlier I had been enjoying the drive to Airlie Beach in Queensland, Australia, looking forward to catching up with old friends one last time before returning home to England at the end of what had been the most amazing year of my life.

How had I got here? Had I hit another car? Or lost control of mine? All these thoughts running through my mind distracted me from the fact that my arm was starting to hurt.

I looked down and saw a severed arm lying across my lap. At first I was scared it was from a pedestrian or another car I had collided with. I did not even contemplate that it might be mine.

In a state of panic, I turned to my passenger, Barry, for reassurance, but all he said was, ‘Don’t look down, it’s your arm’. I don’t know why but those words seemed to calm me.

I tried to get out of the car, but it had sustained a lot of damage and the door on my side was wedged shut. Barry was already clambering out of the window on his side and I followed close behind, a scared 21-year-old carrying his own severed arm.

As I saw Barry scrambling up the bank, I was suddenly alone, scared and slipping into shock. Just at that moment my guardian angel arrived in the form of a woman called Cathy. She had heard the crash from her house and came to see what had happened.

At this point, although I had seen the arm, I had not registered how bad the situation was, so the fact that I was losing blood at a frightening rate was not a concern to me – I was more interested in climbing up the embankment.

But Cathy could see the danger I was in and ran across, wrestling me to the ground with the sort of tackle that would have made the Australian rugby team proud. The only way she could keep me still was to sit on me while we waited for the ambulance.

It is funny but I felt exactly the way you see in films when someone is in trouble – my eyes were closing and I had an overwhelming desire to sleep. Thankfully Cathy was determined to be annoying and did everything she could to keep me awake.

From nowhere I turned to Cathy and said, ‘I think I have stuffed my rugby career’.

It must have been one of the hardest things for her to hear that and have to lie, but she told me I would be fine and back playing in no time, although she didn’t need to be a doctor to see that my arm was unsaveable.

While I hadn’t felt the pain at first, I was definitely feeling it now, an unbearable burning sensation in my right shoulder. Finally, I heard the sound I had been waiting for, and Cathy had no doubt been praying for – sirens. Help had arrived.

The fire brigade was first on the scene and they quickly noticed a strong smell of petrol coming from the car. Without pause for breath I was fastened to a stretcher and run up the hill. Bizarrely, through all that was happening and the pain I was in, I remember smiling at the fact that, in their haste, the fire crew were carrying me the wrong way – feet first – up the hill, so I kept sliding off the board while they frantically tried to hold me in place.

By the time we reached the top of the bank the ambulance had arrived. All I remember at that point was asking to be put to sleep. Of course this was not possible – all they could offer me was gas and air for pain relief.

Meanwhile, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the collision – a 74-year-old local farmer – was 100 yards up the road, casually changing the tyre on an otherwise unscathed car. Once his tyre was changed, he left without even coming to see if I was all right.

All this had happened in a small town called Sarina, about 40 miles south of Mackay, and luckily it was only a few miles to the local hospital. My last memory is of lying on the table while the doctor unwrapped the bandage now holding my arm in place. I don’t know if I lost consciousness or they put me to sleep, but I recall nothing of my second ride in an Australian ambulance – the transfer to Mackay Base Hospital, where I would receive the specialist attention I needed.

Again, my memory of this time is vague. My only recollection is of a doctor explaining that they would do all they could to save the arm, but there was a chance they would have to amputate or, as I like to say, ‘finish what I started’.

The doctor asked for my permission to amputate if needed. I replied sharply, “I don’t care, just put me to sleep.”

Then the lights went out. Relief at last.