Bazza’s story: I wouldn’t change anything

Bazza’s story: I wouldn’t change anything

Barry (or ‘Bazza’, as he is known to his mates) has just been featured in Disabled Daredevils – a Channel 4 documentary following disabled people who are extreme-sports fanatics. Barry really is the heart of the show, giving the others support and advice throughout. This is no surprise given the fact that he’s a bit of a veteran who has taken on all sorts of adrenaline-fueled challenges including skiing, paragliding and sky diving.

He has certainly come a long way since his injury in 1996. Swerving to avoid a badger late at night, he crashed his car and was subsequently paralysed from the neck down.

Barry first came across Back Up in 2007 when he met one of our wheelchair skills trainers. This prompted him to go on his first Back Up multi activity course.

‘‘I was a bit scared before the first time I went away, but it really broke down barriers and opened up new opportunities for me. Back Up gave me a real zest for life and I haven’t looked back since.’’

Bazza decided that he wasn’t going to let his spinal cord injury hold him back. He became a Back Up mentor and a volunteer leading ski and multi-activity courses.  He also took on the ultimate challenge of a sky dive to raise funds for Back Up – one of his major goals after getting involved with us. In June 2008, Barry – dressed as superman – dived from a height of 12,000 feet reaching a speed of almost 100 miles per hour. He says the sky dive was one of the most amazing experiences of his life.

Barry West

Barry was chosen to be an Olympic Torchbearer in 2012, carrying the flame through his local town of Rye. Now he combines being a new dad with his upcoming career as a mouth painter.

‘‘Now I wouldn’t change anything. People find that hard to believe, but it’s true. You might be born with the use of your arms and legs, but you can still lead a fulfilling life without it.”

Sky diving is possible for people with all levels of injury. Get in touch with Kat (kat@backuptrust.org.uk) to find out more about how you could get involved.

Samantha Kinghorn’s first Paralympic Games

Samantha Kinghorn’s first Paralympic Games

Samantha Kinghorn, a former Back Up user, just competed in her first ever Paralympic Games. The 20-year old from Scotland took part in the T53 100m, 400m and 800m races. She had an impressive performance at Rio and made the finals of all her events. She even broke the European record in the T53 800 metres.

Samantha, who won 3 gold medals at the 2014 European Championships, had an accident at her family farm in December 2010 which left her paralysed from the waist down.  Samantha became aware of Back Up after meeting our volunteers whilst recovering in Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital.

After doing a Wheelchair Skills Course, Samantha took part in one of our Youth Multi-Activity Courses in 2012.

“I was really nervous because it was my first time going out on my own after having my accident.  Everyone was really calm; it was nice having the other volunteers in wheelchairs as well. It was good seeing people that hadn’t just had their accident and there were a lot of younger ones there too. I really enjoyed all the activities that we did and found it really fun.”

Samantha also got back into sport after becoming “hooked” on wheelchair racing: “Once I’d tried it out that was it really. That was all I wanted to do.” She’s keen to inspire the next generation of Paralympians and encourages young people to “give anything a shot” because there’s always something out there for everyone.

“Just do everything you can to try and get active and get out and do something. Having a spinal cord injury is not the end of your life. I think I’ve ended up doing a lot more with my life than I think I probably would have without.”

As for her own ambitions, Samantha can take a well deserved rest after a great Rio performance. Well done from everyone here at Back Up and bring on Tokyo!

Lizzie’s story: Getting back in the saddle

Lizzie’s story: Getting back in the saddle

Lizzie was out cycling with her partner four years ago when she was involved in a collision. She had a successful job and an active lifestyle – the accident changed everything.

Lizzie was very proactive during her rehabilitation at The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital, setting herself lots of goals to achieve. But soon after leaving, the reality of her situation hit. She couldn’t go home because her house wasn’t suitable. She moved into temporary housing, but felt out of place as most of the residents were much older.

When Lizzie went on holiday to Llanelli with her family, she couldn’t get on to the beach with her wheelchair. All the things that had seemed so simple before the accident were now so much harder.

‘‘We went to the seaside and I wasn’t able to get on the beach, it was a big, big reminder of how disabled I was.’’

She also struggled with people’s perceptions of her and her wheelchair:

‘‘The first time I went to a party was difficult. I felt like everyone was just staring at me. I wished the ground would swallow me up’’

Lizzie’s decision to go on Back Up’s Exmoor multi activity course was a real game changer. Before the course, she had been focusing on all the things she couldn’t do but the course opened her up to all the things she still could do. She had always loved sport and had the opportunity to go out in a kayak.

Lizzie t 3

‘‘This was a big moment for me. I felt so liberated being in the kayak and out of the wheelchair’’

After the course, Lizzie tried out lots of sports and different challenges. She even went along to Sports Fest in 2013 and met Alasdair Donaldson from British Triathlon.  He invited her to take part in a Talent ID day in the Paratriathlon event and – to her surprise – she was selected for the GB Paratriathlon Talent Squad. She hasn’t looked back since and is now ranked 2nd in the world in Paratriathlon in the PT1 women’s class and was recently selected as part of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme.

Lizzie’s mum still remembers meeting her for the first time after the Back Up course in Exmoor:

‘‘When we went to pick her up she was glowing. We were talking about it the other day and Lizzie said ‘That was the start of me realising I’ve got a life’. ’’

Do you want to attend our multi activity course after reading Lizzie’s story? Get in touch with Andy (andy@backuptrust.org.uk) for more information

Rob’s story: Dances with Dogs

Rob’s story: Dances with Dogs

I can’t remember being chased by a dog before, but it turns out they’re quite fast.

This is something I’ve learnt over the past few months, while training to do the 10k push at Parallel London. I’ve been dutifully doing laps of my local park, trying to build up my strength and speed. But dogs don’t seem to understand what the lump of metal on wheels is for, so generally want to kill and/or mate with it.

Some other things I’ve learnt about life pushing a wheelchair in the ‘fast lane’:

– Unlike dogs, children find a fast-moving wheelchair charming and consequently want to race you.

– At the first whiff of physical activity you get told repeatedly that you should be in the Paralympics. Because it’s easy to qualify, just like the way that every part-time jogger ends up in the regular Olympics.

So, the reason I’m putting myself through the real life version of Dances with Dogs is that Back Up really helped me, and it seemed the perfect way to give something back. I became disabled in 2011 when I was affected by a neurological condition that damaged my spine. Within the course of a week I went from being fully able-bodied to paraplegic.

I think it’s safe to say that my wheelchair-skills training in hospital wasn’t very thorough. Admittedly they did show me how to turn left and right, and even let me push around the car-park a couple of times to make sure I’d mastered these advanced skills. And then that was it. There was no mention of how to deal with the rare and unusual obstacles I might come across. Like kerbs. Or slopes. Cambered pavements. Ramps.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across Back Up – via a rather good YouTube video – that I was taught a lot of skills I now use every day. Things like being able to get off high kerbs, or how to go down ramps in a wheelie so I don’t constantly feel like I’m about to fall out. 

They also taught me much more advanced skills, like how to go down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair. It’s something I use less often but could come in handy in specific situations (e.g. burning building, chorus-line production number, etc.).

I learnt how to do all this last year on one of Back Up’s residential courses, where over the course of five days everyone was given pretty much one-to-one training on how to improve whatever skills we already had. After that, I also took part in Back Up’s mentoring scheme, where someone would phone up every couple of weeks to discuss how things were going, help set challenges and guide me in the right direction. A bit like in Charlie’s Angels, but with more achievable goals.

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Somewhere along the line I discovered I liked pushing longer distances. I spoke to Kat, Back Up’s Community Fundraiser, who told me about Parallel London, which features pushes of different lengths including the 10k. It seemed the perfect fit for what I wanted to do.

I optimistically set a target of £1000, but at the time of writing I’ve raised nearly three times that! And it’s the wide variety of people who’ve sponsored me that seems amazing. The anonymous £5 from a stranger who’d read about it in the paper. The surreal £500 from the company of Jackie: The Musical, based on the girl’s comic (Yes, it’s a real thing. An actress I used to write for was in it and persuaded them to put some of their charity bucket collection our way). And then all the friends, family, tenuous Facebook acquaintances, etc. who also stumped up in aid of a charity that I can, hand on heart, say are worth every penny.

So with a couple of weeks to go I’m off back to the park to contend with the dogs. At least the ones that have caught me so far have been small and fluffy (I’m a cat person, so don’t know what they’re all called). There was one much larger snarling beast – apparently on holiday from guarding the gates of hell – that took a particular dislike to me, but fortunately its wrangler managed to calm it down again. However, contending with the wretched creatures is all in a good cause. Whatever money we raise can start helping other people to learn how to navigate the world in a wheelchair.

Want to join our Parallel London team on September 3 2017? Get in touch with Katherine (katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) to sign up for a place or get more information.

Jackie’s story: Slipping through the net

Jackie’s story: Slipping through the net

On 15th January, 2012, Jackie was settling in for an evening in front of the telly. She drifted off to sleep. But when she woke up several hours later something was wrong. She couldn’t feel her legs.

At her local hospital, doctors initially thought it was only an infection and sent her home with antibiotics. Although it emerged two weeks later that it hadn’t been an infection, but a spinal stroke. Jackie could still walk however so the specialist care and support she needed at this crucial juncture were not provided. She didn’t see anyone from a spinal injury unit and no rehabilitation was provided.

“I’m one of those people who slipped through the net.”

She was sent home without a wheelchair or any idea of how to cope with this life-changing event. Information and support at the early stages of a spinal cord injury is vital to learning how to adjust.  Jackie read up about spinal strokes and, rather than feeling like she needed to get help, she felt that she was lucky. She could still walk. However, she soon felt like she was losing her independence. She returned to work but was forced to take a leave of absence as the physical exhaustion and pain caused by getting around on crutches was too much.

Jackie was at her lowest point – stuck at home, no job, countless questions and no one to answer them. One day she was scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed when she came across Back Up’s page through a friend’s post. She eventually got in touch with our mentoring team who put her in touch with a volunteer in a similar situation. It was the first time she had ever spoken to a person who could genuinely understand what she was going through.

Encouraged by her mentor, Jackie went on Back Up’s Edinburgh City Skills Course for over 50s in May 2016. She was nervous about going but excited to meet other people who could relate to her experience. The wheelchair skills training throughout the course proved to be a revelation. She realised that her wheelchair could enable her to live her life again.

 ‘‘The course basically gave me my life back. I was so much more confident in myself afterwards.’’

Since the course, Jackie’s life has transformed. She is so much more confident in using her wheelchair and she sees the impact of this daily. Simple pleasures like enjoying a coffee in the morning sun – that could be a struggle before – are now much more manageable. She has even challenged herself by going out to places she would never have visited prior to the course.

“I have been out on my own in my wheelchair to the shopping centre, something I would never had contemplated doing before going on a Back Up course.”

She soon hopes to go back to work part time but has already been giving back to Back Up by organising fundraising events including ‘dress down days’ and bake sales. She’s also organising an information day in September to spread the word about Back Up’s work and about spinal cord injury. Jackie has come so far over the past year and now she’s trying to ensure that no one goes through the experience she did. She truly is a Back Up champion.

If you or a loved one has a spinal cord injury and need support or information, please call our Outreach team on 020 8875 1805 or email them at (outreachandsupport@backuptrust.org.uk)