Back Up awarded ‘most deserving snowsport charity’ by SIGB

Back Up awarded ‘most deserving snowsport charity’ by SIGB

Back Up has won the Snow Sport Industries of Great Britain (SIGB) Foundation’s award for ‘most deserving snowsport charity’. The accolade comes with a grant of £4,000 which will be used exclusively to help fund the charity’s ski courses in 2017.


The funding for the £4,000 grant is courtesy of The Slide Industry Trade Show – owned and organised by SIGB. The 3-day tradeshow is specifically for snowsport retailers.

Back Up was founded in 1986 to provide ski courses for people affected by spinal cord injury. 30 years on, the charity’s services have greatly diversified but Back Up continues to offer two ever popular skiing courses.

This year, 14 people will have the opportunity to learn to ski with Back Up in Sweden and Colorado. The participants will be able to push themselves outside of their comfort zone in an exciting and supportive environment.

The award was presented at a ceremony at The International Centre in Telford. Anna Turney, former GB Paralympic skier and Back Up ski course participant, was Back Up’s ambassador on the night. The tradeshow preceded SIGB’s AGM where the award was presented. Damon Street, President of SIGB said:

Giving people who have sustained a life changing injury the chance to use skiing as a way to build confidence is fantastic. Back Up are a truly worthy recipient of the SIGB Foundation Award, and we are delighted we are able to contribute to their ski courses.”

Anna delivered a ‘passionate’ speech about the importance of Back Up’s work and the support it had given to her. Although the course isn’t for potential athletes, in the last 10 years alone 7 members of the GB Paralympic ski squad have been on Back Up’s skiing courses. After accepting the award, Anna said:

Coming back home after the huge challenge of learning how to ski on a Back Up course makes the everyday challenges faced by the spinally injured seem much more manageable. This opportunity is truly life-changing, so support from the UK snowsport industry is massively appreciated.”

To find out more about Back Up’s Sit Ski and Ski Karting courses click here, or contact our courses team on courses@backuptrust.org.uk or by telephone on 020 8875 6741.

Jemima’s story: The Push

Jemima’s story: The Push

I have always been a very active, outdoorsy girl. I love going out with friends, being sociable and spending as much time as possible with horses! I started riding at the age of two and, before the accident, I had my dream job working for a top event rider. As her Head Girl, I would look after all the horses and ponies and help train them for competition. I was very happy, working every day in a job that I loved and I had a great bunch of friends around me.

In May 2015, I was on my way out for a night of laughs and smiles with my mates. Never did we realise that five minutes down the road a life changing event was waiting for all of us. A van travelling in the opposite direction made the decision to overtake on a bend, hitting us head on, leaving me paralysed and, the worst part, taking my friend’s life.

The first few weeks after the accident are a complete blur. I can’t imagine how my parents and brothers must have felt seeing me in a coma and being told that I only had a 5% chance of survival. I was brought out of the coma four days after the accident and following two life-saving operations. My first memory was asking where my friend was. It was down to my father to tell me the news. I didn’t understand what he had told me and just felt very numb. I felt a lot of guilt that I had survived and my friend hadn’t so I struggled to start my rehabilitation as I didn’t think it was fair that I was still here. All my friends and family would tell me that she would want me to get better so I thought all I could do was fight.

I had many severe injuries as well as a complete spinal cord injury which left me paralysed from the waist down. After nearly a week I was transferred from Dorchester hospital to Salisbury spinal unit. They stabilised my spine and once that was done I started the long, gruelling process of rehabilitation.

What had happened to me never really hit home until about the third time I was hoisted into the wheelchair. My legs were just dangling there and I had no control over anything I was doing. I couldn’t believe this was now my life. I had gone from living on my own, riding horses everyday to being hoisted into a chair and having to push myself around to get anywhere. I felt like I had lost everything. It took a lot of courage to finally accept this was going to be my life from now on, but with the help of other patients and talking to them about their experiences, I finally felt like I was ready to start adjusting to my new situation.

When I started basic wheelchair skills and physiotherapy, I remember feeling weaker than I had ever felt. But the more I did, the more I started to feel more capable. Even just carrying a glass was hard at first, but they showed us how to make it possible. It was all about finding ways that suit you and working around the problems.  But being in a hospital is different to the world outside. Everything is easier there. The floors are smooth, doors open easily and everything is accessible to wheelchair users. I started to feel like I was in a protective bubble so I knew leaving that safe space was going to be a huge challenge.

The hospital staff told us about a charity called Back Up. They said if you ever get a chance to go on one of their courses, you have to go as you will learn so much. The Multi Activity course in Exmoor offered wheelchair skills training and activities such as cycling, canoeing and abseiling – things that I never thought I would be able to do after my injury. I was so nervous to go on the course as it was the first time away from my family since the accident and I really didn’t feel comfortable in my wheelchair yet.  But it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I came away from that week with so many new skills for using my wheelchair and felt much more confident.

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Jemima (second from left) on the Multi Activity course in Exmoor

The Snowdon Push was mentioned when I was on the course but it was only a month away at the time. It sounded like an incredible challenge, working with a team of people to reach the summit of Mount Snowdon in my wheelchair. I spoke to my friends and family and managed to get a team together, start fundraising and find a chair – in just one month! The team at Back Up were so encouraging and helped find a chair for me to use. At the time I remember saying to myself ‘are we really doing this?’ I think I was most nervous about actually having to camp. I was never a big fan of camping before but now I had a lot more worries: how am I going to get into a tent? what will I sleep on? where are the toilets? But despite my fears, it was so much fun (and I’ve never been so comfortable in a tent!)

The last thing I wanted to feel was that I was just sitting there whilst my friends and family were pulling and pushing me so I made sure that I was always vocally encouraging and supporting the team. I helped them by looking for the easiest route we could take up the mountain, and I made sure that everyone on the team was happy and motivated. I really felt like I was fully in control, through helping and inspiring everyone to reach the top.

It was such an amazing achievement that I never thought would happen. It just shows that a spinal cord injury doesn’t stop you living your life, you just have to be a bit more creative and adapt to new challenges. The highlight of the experience was when we crossed the finish line as a team all smiling and cheering. All the teams did an incredible job and everyone there supported each other and had a fantastic time.

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Doing the Snowdon Push made me realise how much was still possible for me. Since being back home, I have moved into a property by myself as I feel so much more capable doing things on my own. I am riding twice a week on a new pony that I bought and I’m working towards my first official para dressage competition. My main goal after the crash was to still be as active as I could be and Back Up have helped make that possible by introducing me to different activities and new people. Getting back to riding competitively will be a huge challenge for me, but with all the help and support that is around, I know I can do it.

If you would like to take part in this year’s Snowdon Push 30 June-2 July 2017, please contact Kat (Katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) to apply or request more information.

Sam Hows: Volunteering as a buddy on our courses

Sam Hows: Volunteering as a buddy on our courses

What inspired you to volunteer as a buddy on Back Up’s Moving forwards course?

I was a Physiotherapist working in a hospital in Brisbane. A ‘quarter-life crisis’ caused me to quit my job and travel to the UK for three months. I didn’t want the trip to be entirely selfish so I looked into volunteering abroad. I have always had an interest in working with people with spinal cord injury and with the help of google I found Back Up. It looked like a fantastic organisation and I’d never come across anything similar at home. The team were very accommodating and organised a Skype interview. Due to the time difference I wore business attire on top and pyjama pants on the bottom! Chatting with Tim Farr about what the courses entail as well as my role as a buddy made me so excited and the countdown was on till I flew to the UK.

What did you get out of the experience?

All the participants of Moving Forwards can vouch for how much I enjoyed the course. This was made particularly evident by me sobbing my eyes out on the last night. I would Skype my family each night about the course and they kept saying ” Sammy, I think we’ve just lost you to the UK. Sounds like you’re having too much fun to come home.” I can honestly say the course was one of the best things I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of. As a Physiotherapist, I am used to spending lots of time with different people in rehabilitation but it is very important to maintain a professional relationship. As a buddy, it was wonderful to spend time with the participants in a more relaxed and social setting.

What do you think the participants got out of the experience?

What I think Back Up and the team leaders do so well is tailoring each course to their participants. The Moving Forwards course was designed for and by 18-25 year olds. I don’t think the course would have been as meaningful and successful if the group had to sit around in a circle for hours. Instead it facilitated participants engaging in activities that people their age might want to do: going to the pub, shopping, cooking for their friends and getting around a new city. It was a fantastic and safe setting for participants to build their confidence and share experiences and tips with each other.  I think the participants also enjoyed having the chance to socialise with other young people with a spinal cord injury.

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Sam on the Moving Forwards course, August 2016

What was the highlight of your volunteering experience with Back Up?              

I was a buddy on two Back Up courses and they remain a huge highlight of my three month stint in the UK. I feel so lucky to have been involved even in a small capacity. I learned so much and especially about how unique and extraordinary Back Up is.

Would you like to get involved with Back Up in the future?

I’ve already made plans to marry Prince Harry so he can help fund my mission to start a Back Up Down Under (copyright). On return to Brisbane I have been included in discussions with various professionals working in similar organisations. While it is only early days, it is exciting to share ideas with Australians who’ve also had such a positive experience with Back Up.

What would you say to others considering volunteering on a Back Up course?

I would say definitely do it and just try not to be the only one who cries when it comes to saying goodbye! I could have met anyone while travelling in the UK and I met this amazing bunch of people who truly change people’s lives. I will be forever grateful to have stumbled across this wonderful organisation.

If you’d like to be a buddy or carer on one of our residential courses, click here to apply or email Merryn (merryn@backuptrust.org.uk) for more information.

Bethany’s story: Throwing my own event

Bethany’s story: Throwing my own event

I first got involved with Back Up when I was at Oswestry spinal injury unit. They told me about the charity and the different courses they do, including the under 13s course. I ended up going on that course and absolutely loved it. I’ve been involved with Back up ever since!

The work of the charity is important to me for a few different reasons. It has really helped me gain more confidence and improve my wheelchair skills, which has been really helpful in increasing my independence. It is also important to me because I get to meet lots of other people and have opportunities to try new things.

I’ve even become a member of the youth advisory group and get to be involved in planning what Back Up offers other young people like me. I also recently group led one of the under 13s courses which was so much fun. It’s great to be able to help other young people develop and I can pass on things that I’ve learnt to them.

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Photo by Guy Harrop. Bethany and her mum, Dawn.

I decided I wanted to do something to say thank you to Back Up for all the help they’ve given me. I was inspired to create my own event was because I wanted to raise money for Back Up doing something that was relevant to me and that I love doing. I have done a lot of swimming competitions in the past, so I thought it would be nice to do a sponsored swim and get my school involved!

I’d definitely recommend creating your own event to other people as it gives you the freedom to choose what you want to do and allows you to show people what it is you love doing, and then prove to them that you can actually do it.

If you’d like to hold your own fundraising event, you can click here to find out more or email Kat (katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) to discuss what you’d like to do.

Kierson’s story: Back Up to Work

Kierson’s story: Back Up to Work

It was back in 1998 when I fell from the balcony of my apartment in the Austrian Alps. I was 23 years old and only 2 days into a long-awaited snowboarding trip.

It was all so confusing: the ambulance, the local hospital, the transfer to Innsbruck in the middle of the night. Then suddenly there were all these serious looking doctors with heavy German accents around me and I was just trying to comprehend what had happened – it was pretty bad, that much was obvious!

Then, with no insurance cover, it was an overland drive back to the spinal injuries centre in Sheffield – but that’s another story.

As well as the boundless support from my family and especially my girlfriend (who’s now my wife), I kept three things in my head and these really helped me through those difficult times:

  1. Stay positive
  2. Don’t give up
  3. Do what you love

It’s remarkable then that these are the very things I find myself explaining, 18 years later, in a ‘mock’ interview with a senior manager at a world-renowned finance company on the top floor of a state-of-the-art office building right in the centre of Manchester!

Ironically, I hadn’t actually wanted to do the Back Up to Work course that this interview was a part of as I had initially contacted the charity about trying skiing again. But I was out of work due to a bit a crisis where lots of spinal cord injury related health issues caught up with me as I turned 40 and I thought – why not!

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Kierson on the Back Up to Work course

I must admit the thought of working on my CV, having to talk in front of others and doing speed interviews was a bit daunting and, like everyone else, I had my reservations. This wasn’t going to be zooming down the sparkling slopes with the wind in my hair.

But I have to say that this was one of the best and most useful courses that I have ever been on. I was made welcome right from the start by the Back Up staff and group leaders. The whole team was so friendly and supportive and the course tutor, Helen, was absolutely brilliant.

The content was fun, thought provoking, lively and interspersed with real life anecdotes and really insightful tips for finding and securing your dream job. Added to this, we had some inspirational talks from the top team at KPMG and face-to-face advice sessions with experts from throughout the company.

By the time I got home I was raring to go with a revamped CV and cover letter at the ready. I applied for 2 positions within a week and, not a month after the course, I had my first interview employing my new-found skills and later that same day – a fantastic new job in the bag!

So, I think I will be going skiing this year after all!

Our next Back Up to Work course will be taking place in Manchester, July 23-25 2017. Apply online here or email Andy (andy@backuptrust.org.uk) if you’d like more information about the course.