At just 6 months old, Rio suffered the first of many seizures. It was an event that changed Nick and Delphine’s lives forever. It took nearly five years of fear and heartache before Rio was eventually diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic disorder, known as 1q44 deletion de novo syndrome.
This is a story of how this Dubai based family, and in particular Rio’s father Nick, a former Royal Marines Commando, will stop at nothing to make sure his son and others like him are happy, active and live in an inclusive world.
We caught up with Rio’s father, Nick Watson, about the highs and lows over the last couple of years.
Adventure Uncovered: In what ways has your life changed since Rio was diagnosed with 1q44 deletion de novo syndrome?
Nick: Life as we knew it changed drastically when Rio came into our lives, in fact, it is quite hard to remember life before Rio! We were suddenly put on a grieving journey; grieving for a life that we had planned for and dreamed of and believed we were getting, to that of what we were unexpectedly given, and not fully understanding what that entailed.
It became a life of full-time care giving with a very unknown scary future; hospital visits, medical emergencies, therapies, medications, constant worry and fear, loneliness, guilt, limitations, sacrifices, rejections, inequalities, and exclusion. It created alienation in so many ways, as we could not relate anymore to our ‘life before Rio’ or to our old friends and family whom all ‘appeared’ to be living a very different, easier, happy, carefree life.
We also discovered if you sit back and observe quietly over the chaos and emotions, there are always positives if you are willing to look for them and embrace the change. Once we had our time to realise and fully accept that the journey given to us was different to THE plan, then we could start to see the beauty of the unexpected.
This new life taught us so much, including love on a whole new scale, determination, loyalty, adaptation, letting go, embracing differences, seeing oneness, togetherness, appreciation, gratitude, prioritisation (family), finding the positives in what others may just see as negatives.
We would never change Rio, he is absolutely perfect just the way he is. He has enriched our lives in ways that are so hard to describe. He has opened up a new whole world that we did not know existed before, with a new way of thinking, a new way of being. Rio has an unspoken wisdom that we have learnt by daily; he has made us remember the skills of patience, unconditional love, empathy, that everyone is equal and everyone should feel included. He has shown us that communication, humour and sarcasm are not limited to the verbal language, you just have to learn to truly listen beyond words. The biggest lesson he has shared with us is ‘living in the now’; Rio has no care of yesterday and no interest in tomorrow, he truly lives in the now and lives it fully, always with a big, knowing smile; he often seems to see what we are blind to.
Rio has had a huge impact on his younger sister, Tia, (Little Wolf). We know it is not easy having a sibling with disabilities but Tia has turned out to be the most incredible soul and the most amazing sister to Rio; she often races with Rio too. Their bond is unique and magical.
We are all better people for having Rio in our lives… life has thrown us many other curveball traumas (in work, finances, personal health, family loss, etc) but at those moments, when we feel like crumbling, Rio is always there to remind us of all his wisdom; just one look at him makes us remember, ground ourselves, re-evaluate, check our priorities (which has always been family), look for the positives, adapt, get back up from the floor and start again.
If it wasn’t for him, we would not be doing what we do today! We always say that Rio has directed our destiny.
'Once we had our time to realise and fully accept that the journey given to us was different to THE plan, then we could start to see the beauty of the unexpected.'
Adventure Uncovered: Tell us more about the events you've competed in with Team Angel Wolf?
Nick: Team AngelWolf is a non-profit foundation that promotes an inclusive, active life with People of Determination (people with disabilities). We work with families and individuals of all abilities in a welcoming, motivational and connected space. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is equal.
Team AngelWolf participates in a whole range of events - from extreme, world record-breaking challenges to community walks. We participate in the biggest races and run our own-brand activations, as well as inspirational seminars within schools and the private sector. We started in the United Arab Emirates in 2014 and have grown year on year to become the best known private foundation of our kind in the region.
Team AngelWolf provides a platform of inclusion for our global community, with numerous of regular free activities and events, where we have had thousands of people participate; e.g Bach Blast program (floating wheelchair activity at the beach for schools of all abilities to participate); Together We Can program (a #WolfPack team, mixed of pushers (runners) and riders (people with disabilities using our running chairs) joining in running races/walking events as a big WolfPack with togetherness; #ClimbWithRio event (Nick with Rio strapped to his back, climbed the equivalent height of Burj Khalifa tower (the world’s largest tower 828.9m) on the stairs at their home during the pandemic; thousands of people of all ages and abilities, from around the world, joined them in the challenge that weekend; doing it safely in their own homes, in their own way, in their own time; but all for the same reasons.)
Since 2014, Rio has completed over 7,914kms in over 250 races and events; not bad for a young man with disabilities!
Here is a taste of one season in our journey...
Adventure Uncovered: What is your main focus now and in the near future?
Nick: Our ultimate goal is to return to Ironman Kona World Championships with Rio!
This is where it all started when Delphine was pregnant with Rio and Nick participated in Ironman Kona dreaming of racing with his son one day, not realising what that would really entail. So the year Rio turns 18, 2021 - the dream is to complete the circle and for Nick to race in Kona again, with Rio… but just different to how he originally thought!
To get to Kona we have a 4 step process!
We need to partner with corporates, in the form of sponsorship for our Team AngelWolf non-profit foundation (registered with CDA). The foundation is the foundation of our work. Sponsorship is the only way that allows us to continue with our mission to help our global community with providing awareness and platforms for active inclusion. If the foundation crumbles, Kona will not happen!
We need to participate in two middle distances races in 2021, with the assistance of corporate sponsorship (We hope one will be Ironman 70.3 Dubai)
We need to participate in a full-distance race in 2021, with the assistance of corporate sponsorship.
Participate in Ironman Kona in 2021 (with the assistance of corporate sponsorship).
With the help of volunteers and sponsors, we want to help get Rio and Nick to compete in the pinnacle of Ironman events in Kona, Hawaii in 2021. If we can make that happen, then we want to make a full-length documentary that we hope has a fairytale ending!