As a young boy, Leon Legge's overriding ambition was to play football and enjoy being a part of the game he was so passionate about. However, at 16 years of age he was faced with an obstacle to overcome, and that came in the form of Epilepsy.
Whilst training with non-league side, Little Common, he encountered his first seizure and was subsequently diagnosed with the condition. Despite that, he hasn't allowed it to get in the way of his dreams, and he is determined to inspire others who may have to live with it.
Recalling that first seizure as a teenager, Legge remains forever grateful to his coach at the time in how he dealt with the situation. Now 33 years of age, the Vale defender wants to increase awareness of the condition so that people know how to handle things if somebody does experience a seizure.
He said: “I was 16 years old and my first seizure was at football training when I was in non-league, but the coach’s daughter had Epilepsy, so fortunately he knew what to do and I’m thankful that he was there.
“All I remember was heading the ball and I then went to head it again, but the floodlights seemed to set everything off and I remember coming down and sparking out. I then woke up with the paramedics there, so it was a crazy situation at the time.
“It was always my aim just to play football and I’m still playing professionally, so I didn’t want Epilepsy to get in the way of that. As I only got into the professional game at 24 years old, I constantly get asked if the condition stopped me getting a contract at other clubs.
“I always respond by saying ‘hopefully not’ and I like to think their decision was purely based on football, but I always get asked if my Epilepsy held me back a few years. Now I’m in football like I am, I’m hearing more stories of other people with the same condition, and I want to be there as an inspiration to help others combat it.
“I want people to know about it because seizures can happen out of the blue, so to be prepared for that potentially happening can be key. It’s my aim to make people more aware of the condition and to educate them about what they can do."
After over a year without a seizure, it came as a surprise to Legge when he woke up in Liverpool Royal University Hospital almost a fortnight ago. Despite realising what had happened as soon as he opened his eyes to find himself in new surroundings, he insists it still shocked him.
With his episodes occuring in his sleep, Legge shows an enormous amount of gratitude to his wife who alerted the emergency services and ensure that he was able to get the appropriate level of care.
“My wife doesn’t really get used to it and she says that it can be scary. She knows what to do and she’s become pretty composed, but when it randomly happens it can be worrying," he said.
“I just woke up in hospital. I was at my Mother-in-Law’s and I stayed up to watch the Tyson Fury fight, but my seizures come in my sleep and anything after that is a blur.
“I went to sleep and then woke up in Liverpool Royal hospital, so there was a bit of panic from my wife and some of my family members, but I’m all better now.
“To know nothing about my seizures is strange and to wake up somewhere completely different is a bit of a shock, but I knew what had happened once I realised I was in hospital.
“I regularly take medication and to this day I don’t really know what triggered it, but maybe it was down to tiredness. It was certainly a shock because the last one was around a year ago, so it came out of the blue.
“Speaking to my wife, she said the care was quality from the doctors and nurses that were there, so it was all about recovery and they were monitoring me in there."
Now fully recovered and back in training with his teammates at Vale Park, Legge is targeting a return to the heart of Neil Aspin's defence, but he has an ongoing desire to educate fellow sufferers of Epilepsy and to make them believe that anything is possible.
As an ambassador for Young Epilepsy, a charity who provide support for children and young people who live with the condition, he also wants to encourage people to speak openly about Epilepsy, something which he found difficult to do as a teenager.
With various avenues available to aid anyone suffering, Legge is eager to let people know that they aren't alone. He also insists that there has been an increase of awareness in the footballing community, and he wants people to be able to talk about it without the worry of any stigma being attached.
He said: “When I was growing up and I’d meet new people, I was quite hesitant to tell them that I have Epilepsy. It wasn’t something I wanted to share until I got to know a person quite well.
“The role I play with the Young Epilepsy charity and other things means I’m more vocal about it now. I’m able to talk to people about it and I regularly have conversations with parents and coaches who deal with young people, letting them know how I’ve combatted it myself.
“As a child I didn’t want to open up because of the stigma attached to it, but at the time I didn’t really know too much about Epilepsy anyway. I just fought it head on, and because I liked football so much, I didn’t want to stop playing.
“When I first got diagnosed I didn’t really know anyone who had my condition so I faced it alone, but more and more people in football are coming out and telling people they suffer with it too. They’ve contacted me and had conversations about it, so it’s become more of a normal topic to talk about now."
Vale host Cheltenham Town in Sky Bet League Two this weekend, and having missed two fixtures during his time away from the club, Legge is delighted to be back in contention and out on the grass playing football again.
Despite being homebound and focused on his recovery during the last week or so, the man-mountain defender had been keeping a close eye on results, and he is confident that he and his teammates can build on their current three-game unbeaten run.
He said: “It’s back to normality now, going into training after being at home and getting bored. I was just recovering, but I’m glad to be back involved.
“Whilst I’ve been away I’ve been having a look at the results and speaking to some of the lads, trying to get a take on the performances. I’ve missed it a little, but I’m happy to be here again and hopefully we can keep a run going.”