Mike Nemesvary, our founder, set up Back Up in 1986 after his spinal cord injury. Mike who joined us recently from Canada to celebrate our 30th anniversary, tells us about the early days and what makes him most proud.
Tell us about your life before your spinal cord injury
My life was sports, sports and more sports! After winning my 1st Canadian National Freestyle skiing Championship at age 15, I spent 10 years representing Canada and Great Britain. I won the first ever World Cup for Britain and have 40 titles in my sport. By the 1980s, I had also established a career in film and commercials. I was approached by the James Bond film producers, Albert “Cubby” and Barbara Broccoli and Tom Pevsner to help to choreograph and perform the stunts in the opening sequences of “A View to a Kill”. Sadly, this was the last film I worked on prior to my spinal cord injury on May 18th, 1985.
What motivated you to set up Back Up?
After my very first sit skiing trip to Switzerland just seven months after my injury, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment, adventure and optimism that I wanted to share with others whose lives were affected by spinal cord injury. Then, there were virtually no other organisations set up to offer similar opportunities.
Who else was involved in setting up the charity?
From my bedside at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London, my friends, Barbara Broccoli OBE and Jess Stock supported the concept of Back Up and used their vast influence within the film and ski industries to garner support. Konrad Bartelski was also one of the notable figures who jumped on board to build up the charity.
The commitment of volunteers cannot be stressed enough – from Board and Committee members to carers and buddies on courses and our many fundraisers and supporters. Back Up would not be in existence today without the literally thousands of individuals who believed in our mission.
What was life like for people with spinal cord injury then?
Once you’ve left your spinal centre and rehabilitation, you often feel like you’re living in a “vacuum” cut off from the supportive community you relied on. I guess I was fortunate that I had some resources, a strong support network of family and friends and a zest to carry on and redefine my purpose in life, albeit from a sitting position.
How have things have changed?
Originally we found our niche in offering adventure pursuits which helped people see their lives from a new perspective. Now, we’ve expanded to helping all age groups through our mentoring, wheelchair skills, support back to work and school, and influencing which I think is fantastic. I’m so pleased to know that we are sharing our “best practice” with the international community.
I’ve been a very strong public advocate for the rights of disabled people. While some things have changed, the problems we face are often intangible. Our quality of life is often dictated by people still seeing our disabilities before our abilities.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of how Back Up has grown into a mature and successful organisation effecting change on the international platform. I’m proud that I had the opportunity to represent two countries and achieve most of my competitive sporting objectives. I’m proud of becoming the first quadriplegic to independently circumnavigate the globe in my modified vehicle. I’m proud to be with my partner, Mary Anne and assistance dog Jigger!
What were you most looking forward to when you visited the UK?
A glass of premium scotch! I was particularly looking forward to visiting our offices and meeting the many new individuals who are now “running the show”. It was fun reacquainting myself with some old friends who were pivotal in the early days.
What would you like to see Back Up achieve in the next 30 years?
Keep following the same path of steady growth and become “a force to be reckoned with” both in the UK and across the globe!