- World Darts Championship
'I very nearly gave up when I lost my brother'
Justin Pipe will always remember his first taste of darts.
"It was playing drunk at the age of about six!" Pipe told ESPN. "I was watching Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson at Christmas time. My dad bought me a little dartboard. He used to put it on a chair next to his when he used to practice.
"I was watching the Embassy [World Championship]. Bristow and Jocky were drinking their beer and stuff so I thought, I'll sneak downstairs - it must have been a few days after Christmas - and have a game of darts in the morning. And I'll copy what they do on the television.
"I'll get a bottle of drink, and I can have a drink every time I throw my darts. I'll never forget it, it was Old England Sherry. So every time I had a throw of three darts, I had a drink of sherry. I think I lasted about four throws! I was hammered; I remember my Mum putting me to bed with a cracking headache!"
PDC World Championship: Ones to watch
- The PDC World Darts Championship starts on December 13, with reigning champion Phil 'The Power' Taylor beginning the defence of his crown on opening night.
- Adrian 'Jackpot' Lewis will be gunning for his third world title when he kicks off against Dennis Smith on December 18, while Michael van Gerwen hopes to go one better after losing to Taylor in last year's final. The Dutchman starts his campaign on December 17, the same night Simon Whitlock plays Ross Smith.
- You can never dismiss 'The Machine' James Wade; the seven-time major winner plays Darren Webster in his first round match on December 19, while five-time champion Raymond van Barneveld is in action on December 15 against youngster Jamie Lewis.
From that sweet, unadulterated taste, there was no turning back for Pipe. 'The Force', as he is now known on the PDC circuit, found a love in darts which would change his life.
The infatuation of the game would not only mould Pipe into one of the world's best players, but one who is fiercely respected and admired by his fellow professionals. In 2012, Pipe was voted PDPA (Professional Darts Players Association) Player's Player of the Year, something which remains very dear to his heart and acts as a daily reminder of how far he's come.
Top 16 status beckoned with a European Tour event victory, before he reached a career-high ranking as world number eight with his 'best ever' victory over Raymond van Barneveld at the 2013 World Matchplay.
However, in the summer of 2013, a family tragedy left Pipe seriously contemplating his future in the sport. His brother Mark - who he'd grown up playing darts with - died suddenly while Pipe was away playing at a tour event in Gibraltar.
"To be honest with you, I very nearly gave up when I lost my brother because I wasn't home, I wasn't there for my mum and dad," Pipe said. "That really hurt, that I wasn't there for them. I couldn't get my head around playing darts for a few days after that. We all got together - my mum and dad, my sister and my wife Claire - and said 'Look, Mark would want you to go and play in Germany in the European Championship [the following week].'
"If it wasn't for my family, I don't know what I would have done really. My brother absolutely loved it, he loved me playing darts and he was so behind me it was unreal. Because we were so close, it knocked me sideways, it really did.
"I had to go from Gibraltar to Alicante airport, or something like that - a hundred or so miles in a cab on my own. Then I was waiting in the airport on my own - all these things were going through my mind. I've never, ever felt so lonely in my life. That really was a horrible, horrible time. Those hours after I knew, it was unreal.
"I'm the man of our family. I wasn't there for them and I was kicking myself for that. But you can't be, you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know when these things are going to happen. It's just part of life."
Pipe's humility speaks volumes. Years before turning professional, he earned his keep as a tree surgeon, an unsettlingly dangerous trade; at its worst he was operating on trees, sometimes 80-feet tall, in blustering, rain-soaked conditions. At the end of his day, he would still return home for a stint on the oche.
Pipe in his own words
- On his return to league darts: "That's what really got me back into it, the smoking ban.
- On working as a tree surgeon: "I've done some right dangerous jobs in my time, where you get down from the tree and think 'why on earth have I done that?
- On fans who complain he throws too slow: "The people that moan about it, they're just the fans that don't like you because you've got blue eyes or you wear a black top. Either you float their boat, or you don't.
- On being named Player's Player in 2012: "I look at that trophy on a daily basis and it just warms the cockles of my heart.
- On the after-effect of his injury: "Even in the summer, when the sun's beaming down on my right arm, it gets itchy and I have to scratch it. It's horrible. It's there forever."
As a passionate non-smoker, Pipe refused to compete in local darts leagues while cigarette smoke clogged the air of Somerset's pubs. So when the smoking ban was introduced in July 2007, Pipe finally began to realise his dream. A year later, he competed at the UK Open as a pub qualifier, after which he took the decision to join the PDC tour full-time.
His poise on the oche is deadly; the accuracy of his tungsten is defined by a mechanical throw, a technique which sometimes takes twice as much time to instigate than his opponent. However, that isn't by choice.
In the summer of 1993, Pipe was involved in a car accident. The extent of his injuries were severe; Pipe suffered paralysis in his right arm - his throwing arm - for three months which, combined with hyper-sensitivity, caused him unbearable pain.
"I was absolutely distraught at that time," Pipe remembers. "I had to come to terms with not moving my arm, but also the end of what could have been a promising career in darts.
"It happened in July, and there was a fan in the hospital ward about 30 feet away. Every time the fan turned around and the air came towards me, I was screaming out in pain because I could feel it that much.
"Because I paralysed my right arm through nerve damage, it obviously starts to work its way from the end up. The first thing I did was wiggle my finger, then I had to build on that. Wiggling the finger next to it and then wiggling the finger next to that. It took me about eight months just to be able to take my hand out of my pocket - it was frightening.
"I still get a very bad tingling pain in my arm. Because it was nerve damage, it will always be there I think. It's quite astonishing really just to think that now, my right arm provides my bread and butter. It's incredible. But I just feel very lucky that I can do what I do."
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