Video: The remarkable story of the young York skateboarder who fought back from cancer

A still from the film, showing some of the footage shot in LA. Photograph: Ben Porter / Jonny Long
19 Apr 2016 @ 9.10 pm
| Health & fitness

Jonny Long started skateboarding at the age of ten. He loved it, developing a passion for the sport that saw him flipping, grinding and sliding through his teenage years.

Then, at 19, he fell awkwardly and fractured his hip. He went to hospital, was patched up and sent on his way.

But something wasn’t right. He hobbled around in agony for six months until his concerned friends made him go back to hospital. He hadn’t had an x-ray first time around, but this time, he insisted.

The results were life-changing, as this remarkable short film by freelance York filmmaker Ben Porter reveals.

There was a shadow on the X-ray and, the doctors told him, this meant he had a rare type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

This usually develops in growing bones, making it most common in teenagers and young adults. Any bone can be affected, but tumours are most likely to attack the arms and legs, particularly the knee joint.

Jonny had to have a large part of his right femur and part of his hip joint removed.

Dark times

Learned to walk again: Jonny Long, in a still taken from Ben's film
Learned to walk again: Jonny Long, in a still taken from Ben’s film

The treatment was tough, but his recovery was made a little easier by the Teenage Cancer Trust.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. I had some really dark times in hospital and they definitely helped a lot,” Jonny says in the film.

It took him a year to learn to walk again and, when he tried to get back on his board, he realised anything more than a gentle roll was pretty much beyond him, as he explains.

“I can’t really do a lot of the stuff I used to do. The muscle in my hip after surgery just doesn’t do the same thing.”

Positive action

Mark Murphy doing a frontside 5-0 grind - photographed by Jonny Long
Mark Murphy doing a frontside 5-0 grind – photographed by Jonny Long

So, he put down his board and picked up his camera, filming skateboarders in action at Zoo Skatepark on Foss Bank, York, where he volunteers. His work started to get some positive attention and he was invited to LA for five weeks of filming.

“I met some legends; people I had looked up to since I was about ten.

“I realised then that I could probably make a career somehow out of this.”

Riding high

On his return, Jonny launched The Vale, an online magazine dedicated to skateboarding, which he updates regularly with films and features.

He first met filmmaker Ben Porter, who runs Plastic Fortune, the collective of York filmmakers documenting creativity and alternative culture in the city, last year.

Jake Jarvis doing a frontside ollie at York's Zoo Skatepark. Photograph: Jonny Long
Jake Jarvis doing a frontside ollie at York’s Zoo Skatepark. Photograph: Jonny Long

Ben had sent his brothers, Luke, Joel and Isaac, to film York Go Skateboarding Day and wanted to talk to Jonny about putting it on The Vale.

In the end, their coffee-fuelled conversation turned to his accident, the cancer diagnosis and life after treatment.

“It was a few months before we spoke about the idea of making it into a short video,” said Ben, “but when I mentioned the concept he said he’d be happy to be involved.

“Luckily, Jonny was very honest and open to answering my questions, and spoke in a way that shows the strength of his character and his ambition.

“He managed to stay positive and keep on doing what he loves doing, and I have a lot of respect for him for being able to do that.”

The inspiring film, shot on location in York with original music by Ryan Noble and Josh Latham of Recount Archives, can be seen alongside other works by Ben on his Vimeo page.

It is the first of three films they are collaborating on, Ben told YorkMix:

We will have part two and three coming out in the next couple of months, each focusing on someone different.

It’s somewhat of a follow on from the People Of York series I do with Plastic Fortune, but focuses more on the person and their story than their opinions on the city of York, which allows me to be a bit more creative with the way I shoot and edit.

Other than that I’m currently looking to do a few more music videos, so any musicians out there give me a shout!