When most people think about spinal cord injury, they imagine someone in a wheelchair. But spinal cord injury affects everyone differently. Some people are able to walk, either unaided or with sticks, and don’t use a wheelchair, or might feel the need to use it some of the time.

Spinal cord injured people who can walk frequently experience a lack of recognition and understanding from others. Feelings of guilt are common and many feel excluded from the spinal cord injured community.

Jacques is one of the many people living with spinal cord injury who can walk. He became injured while doing his national service for the South African Army.

“I was about one month into it when I went with a group of friends on a fishing trip. It was on this trip that I was involved in a freak accident where I fell off a Land Rover into a sitting position, which resulted in me fracturing my pelvis and crushing my spine,” Jacques says.

Jacques’s injury was classed as incomplete, which means he has sensation and movement below his injury level. For Jacques this means he is able to walk.

During his rehabilitation, feelings of guilt started to take over. He felt guilty not only because he was able to walk while other patients couldn’t, but also because people expected him to walk more than he was actually able to.

“In some ways it made me feel like I did not fit in with other patients in the hospitals.”

Research from Back Up found that a number of people who can walk experience pain and fatigue and have difficulties managing it, impacting on their day-to-day lives. “My walking was and to this day is quite slow and unsteady. I have no balance when standing up so I need to use two crutches to stand and walk,” Jacques says.

“Walking is also quite painful for me after short distances and finding a place to sit down becomes a priority so I opted to use a wheelchair most of the time.”

Jacques’s experience meant he was invited to join a working group with other people who can walk to develop a brand new Back Up course – Next Steps. This course will help people like Jacques to rebuild confidence and independence.

It will take place over a long weekend and it will cover life skills, such as accessing public transport, making a meal and getting around a busy city.

“As a person who is able to walk there are always questions around why you don’t do certain things and some people think you are being lazy without knowing all the other things that happen to people with spinal cord injury.”

The course will also give people the opportunity to share experiences and talk about different issues, such as ‘invisible disability’, pain, fatigue management and guilt.

Jacques has faced many challenges because of his injury, but he has also made the best out of life. “Since my injury I have travelled to many different places in the world and have tried so many different activities, some that I never thought I would be able to do due to living with spinal cord injury,” he says.

Jacques hopes that this new course will help people in a similar situation to revive their zest for life. “This course is all about what you want to learn and what would improve your independence. The aim is to give you the confidence to lead a more active life,” he says.

Do you have a spinal cord injury and are able to walk? Apply now for our Next Steps course taking place in September 2017.

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