Hugo’s story: Running For My Sister

Hugo’s story: Running For My Sister

Some people are clearly born runners; their long legs bound gracefully over concrete, one long limbed extension after another, a serene look of ease on their fair, unclammy face. They glide past you on the street as silent and fast as an archer’s release. Sadly for the majority of us this is not the case. The rest of us huff and puff our way across cracked pavement and over ungainly tree roots. Brows sweat profusely and headphones are imperative to block out the slap slap of flipper-flat foot on tarmac and mud.

Haile Gebrselassie I am not. There is no denying that I am firmly ensconced in this second category of runners. My stumpy legs belie my height and my hobbit-like feet make dumbo look like a ballerina.

I can’t pretend that it was my intention to ever compete in the marathon, it was not something that had previously crossed my mind and it was only due to a miscommunication with my over-eager sister that I got mixed up in the whole thing in the first place.

I was naturally tentative to start with, and my mind conjured seemingly watertight excuses as to why I shouldn’t take part: “Shouldn’t you be concentrating on your new job?” “Pounding those concrete streets is going to wreak havoc on your knees.” “Do you even realise how long 26.2 miles is?’’. However, by the end of September, largely thanks to the advice and enthusiasm of Back Up, those excuses had run dry and I filled in my application form.

Hugo taking a pit stop during his training!

Once I had been accepted to run on behalf of the charity the first few weeks were full of encouragement, advice and the occasional ‘you wouldn’t get me doing that’. I filled out the paperwork but my training wasn’t due to start until the first week of January. What better excuse was there than that to make the most of the festive period and eat and drink to my heart’s content? And so it was that on the January 3rd (the 1st and 2nd were bank holidays before you ask) I set off on my first run of the year – full of vim and fervour for the open roads and perhaps a few pounds more Hugo than when I had signed up.

The first few runs didn’t seem too bad, I was following a training regime downloaded from the internet that called itself ‘Running your first Marathon’ which put special emphasis on rest days and eating enough carbohydrates to fuel your body, two things that come very naturally to me. The hardest part of these first sessions was undoubtedly the winter chill that had settled on South West London. The biting cold  claws at any uncovered patch of flesh and reminds you every morning how easy it would be to just stay in bed. My brand new, hi-tech running trainers, with their extra breathable flyknit weave fabric and their durable yet malleable polyurethane foam soles, were no match for the nippy gust that freezes toes.

The reason that I am putting myself through all of this is simple: to do what I can to raise money for a charity that I know first hand makes a huge difference. The effect that a spinal cord injury has is devastating.

Six years ago my sister fell from a balcony and broke her back, which left her completely paralysed from the waist down. She spent weeks in a coma, followed by further months in hospital. The moment she was able to put her mind to her future, Back Up was there. They taught her everything there was to know about life in a wheelchair, from the skills that it takes to cover the unprepared high streets to how to educate people about life with a spinal cord injury.

Back Up were there when Sophie finished her rehabilitation, guiding her at every turn. The charity set her up on a trip to Colorado to try sit skiing for the first time and now she is competing to represent Great Britain at the next Paralympics. The work they do is immeasurable. That is why I am so proud to be helping out in my small fashion by lumbering my way around the streets of London.

So the weeks go by and the runs get longer and harder.  My fundraising page, that I check daily, sounds out the countdown in its jovial comic sans typeface. At the time of writing the big day is 60 days off and moral is high. The generosity of friends, family and even those who don’t know me but have been kind enough to donate, has blown me away and I am so grateful that they have given me this opportunity to help raise money in order to support those in need of Back Up’s services.

The weather is slowly improving and I no longer finish my pre-work runs under a cloak of darkness. A pesky muscle strain has slowed my progress over the last 5 days but with any luck the cocktail of anti-inflammatories and ice spray will see that it does not tarnish my ambitions. I still have a long way to go and who knows what obstacles will be placed in my path over the next couple of months. One thing is for certain, however, that Back Up will be with me throughout, just as they have been there for so many.

To help Hugo reach his fundraising goal, click here to make a donation. If you would like to register your interest for our London Marathon 2018 team, please contact Alex ( for more information or click here to see our other running/pushing challenges.


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.

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.


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 ( to apply or request more information.

Sam’s story: Taking on Parallel London for Back Up

Sam’s story: Taking on Parallel London for Back Up

An accident during a rugby match left 10-year-old Samuel – also known as Sam – with minimal feeling and movement in his legs. The injury turned his life upside down. But Back Up was there to help when he needed the most.

After ten weeks in hospital, Sam was ready to come home and go back to school. His school was very supportive and they even encouraged him to return one morning a week as his condition improved.


Lucy, a Back Up school advocate, visited Sam’s school to explain to his friends what it meant to live with a spinal cord injury. She also met with staff and helped them to make Sam feel included in school activities.

Sam said:

“Lucy told the students to ask before helping me, which is great because I would rather be independent. Before they would open doors for me, but I can open them myself. It’s helpful but I don’t want people doing stuff for me.”

Since receiving support from our School Inclusion service, Sam has also attended a Youth Advisory Group weekend, where he first heard about Parallel London, a fully inclusive and accessible event for people of all abilities.

The event aims to help influence positive attitudes and understanding of disability, as well as highlighting the importance of fitness and encourage more active lifestyle.

In September this year, Sam and his family will participate in the event, which is taking place in London’s Olympic Park.

Ali would like to see more events like Parallel London happening all over the country. She explained:

“Just because you are in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you don’t want to be part of and fully included in events like this”.

Katherine, Back Up’s Community Fundraiser, sees Parallel London as a great opportunity for both individual runners and families to take on a different and rewarding challenge.

She said: “It’s going to be an amazing experience for everyone involved and I hope Sam and his family will inspire you to join our team next year.”

Inspired by Sam’s story? Join our Parallel London team on September 3 2017. Get in touch with Katherine ( for more information.

Take on a challenge to celebrate our birthday

Take on a challenge to celebrate our birthday

Today at least three people will be told they are paralysed or have permanent pain and problems walking as a result of spinal cord injury. The news can be devastating. But at Back Up,  we believe that, with the right support, a spinal cord injury it shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting the most out of life.

Take on a challenge to help people affected by spinal cord injury

This year Back Up hits the big 3-0. To celebrate it, we are asking you, your friends, family and colleagues to join us by taking on a challenge, however big or small, to support people affected by spinal cord injury.

30 for 30

Why not think 30 when planning how to get involved in our anniversary: 30 hours, 30km, 30 cakes, 30 people? 30 for 30 is a great way to celebrate what Back Up has achieved since it was first set up in 1986.

We have put together a few ideas to get you started:

  • Give something up for 30 days – chocolate, social media, swearing, coffee, alcohol
  • Take a different route or mode of transport to work – get out of your comfort zone
  • Bake 30 cakes – to sell not just eat!
  • Host a fundraising event for 30 people – quiz, raffle or coffee morning
  • Banish the winter blues by turning the office orange – getting everyone to wear orange
  • Ask 30 friends to ‘like’ Back Up on Facebook
  • Walk, push or run a distance everyday for 30 days or aim for 30km over 1 week/month/year!
  • Sign up to a challenge in 2016 – push to the peak of Mount Snowdon or ride from London to Paris

For more information on how to get involved, please contact or call us on 020 8875 6749