Louise Wright | The future of Back Up

Louise Wright | The future of Back Up

As I reflect on the past year at Back Up, I feel so very proud of all we’ve managed to achieve in 2016. Our commitment to reach everyone affected by spinal cord injury has pushed us to expand our services again this year.

A real highlight has been the introduction of our Next Steps course for people with spinal cord injury who are able to walk.

We’ve always prided ourselves on listening to the needs of our service users and finding a way to meet that need. We know that people who can walk have sometimes felt ‘invisible’ in the spinal cord injury community and so we were determined to run a course that was specifically tailored to their experience.

In 2017, Back Up will run at least one Next Steps course if not more. In the same year, we will also launch our new Family Outreach and Support Co-ordinator position which will be funded by the Baxter Foundation. The individual in this position will ensure family members receive the support and advice they need as they come to terms with the injury of a loved one.

On the world stage, we have become one of the most influential peer led organisations for people affected by spinal cord injury. We’ve shared our experience this year with countries like Greece, Germany and Australia, with more planned in 2017 and beyond.

We continue to make progress and reach more people year on year but it’s been happening against a horrifying back drop of cuts. If you had your injury in the 1980s, you would expect to access specialist rehabilitation for up to 12 months. Today, you’re more likely to get 3-6. That’s if you’re lucky enough to access the specialist services you need. Many people who have their spinal cord injury as a result of a medical condition often slip through the net, missing the vital support they desperately need shortly after their injury. Support is also lacking for those who use a ventilator, or need care at home. So we recognise that Back Up must continue to develop in response to the growing challenges around us. And we also know that you all play a huge part in making that happen.

We thank each and everyone one of you that have supported us, funded us, volunteered with us or helped in any way. Without you, our work would not be possible.

As I write this I’m particularly struck by something our founder, Mike Nemesvary, said when he returned to the UK to celebrate our 30th birthday:

‘‘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.’’

Our mission to inspire people affected by spinal cord injury to transform their lives is as true now as it was when it was first uttered 30 years ago. And it’s those words that give me the fire to build on our successes and change people’s lives for the next 30 years to come. So bring on 2017.  We’re ready for you.

If you’d like to support our work in 2017, you can click here to make a donation. All your gifts make a huge difference to what we can achieve.  We’re also on the lookout for new volunteers to join our team as buddies and PAs on courses, or to help out on events and in the office. Click here to find out about all our volunteering opportunities.

Photography by Linda Scuizzato


A word with our founder, Mike Nemesvary

A word with our founder, Mike Nemesvary

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.

Photography by Linda Scuizzato

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!



Mike Nemesvary: “Happy birthday Back Up!”

Mike Nemesvary: “Happy birthday Back Up!”

Back Up’s founder, Mike Nemesvary, was a stunt skier who broke his neck whilst training. In 1986, he set up the charity to help other people in his situation to get back to skiing post-injury. 30 years on, our services have expanded and changed to meet the needs of people affected by spinal cord injury. Mike wrote a blog post to celebrate Back Up’s anniversary: 

mike ski
Back Up founded in 1986 by Mike Nemesvary, former British and European Freestyle Champion

It is hard to believe that this year represents Back Up’s 30th anniversary!

It seems like it was only yesterday when my dear friends Barbara Broccoli and Jess Stock gathered by my bedside at the Stanmore Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Centre in North London, as I was nearing the end of 7 months of intense rehabilitation.

Rather than discussing all of the inherent challenges of trying to overcome the effects of breaking my neck at level C 4/5 complete, while facing an unknown future as a quadriplegic, we focused on all of the positive outcomes resulting from my accident and how it could be the platform for helping others with spinal cord injuries.

Without really knowing what we were getting into, the three of us committed to conceptualising an organisation that would improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries, through services and programs that would put us on a level playing field with the rest of society… and Back Up was born!


In the early days our small charity was administrated through the offices of the British Ski Federation, Committee Member’s home offices and then eventually our own independent office. Back in the 80’s, our focus was very much on embracing quality of life through championing many challenging sports, such as snow skiing, water skiing and various outbound adventures, but always remaining visionary and motivated to take on a wide and varied mandate.

Throughout the 90’s and into the Millennium right through to now, the organisation has methodically developed steady stewardship and leadership, expanding into areas such as mentoring, advocacy, education, employment and is a force to be reckoned with throughout the United Kingdom and beyond leaving our mark in many countries from Europe and Scandinavia to New Zealand and the United States.

As is the case with Back Up, what you see on the surface only tells a small part of the 30 year old story. Our longevity would not be possible were not for all of those committed individuals behind the scenes, from our trustees, management and staff to the thousands of volunteers, friends and supporters who continue to see beyond our disabilities and help us to surpass our limitations.

This year, the Back Up team have gone all out in celebrating our 30th anniversary milestone with the goals of reaching a wider group of people affected by spinal cord injury, raising awareness of the issues they face, to celebrate their achievements and bring people together for change. The aim is for everyone affected by spinal cord injury to live the life they want and receive the support they need to fulfill their potential.

While I’m looking forward to attending the Back Up Ball in Birmingham this coming fall, I invite all of our past, present and future supporters to join us in 2016 and make this our finest year ever.

Some 30 years ago, Barbara, Jess and I wanted to “plant the seeds” for a unique organisation that would provide a platform to support people with spinal cord injuries to challenge limitations, pursue their dreams and achieve a quality of life once only reserved for the most able bodied within our society.

I think it’s safe to say those early objectives have been realised and that we’re all excited and inspired to see where the next 30 years will take us. Happy Birthday Back Up!

Join us this anniversary year by taking on a challenge to help people affected by spinal cord injury. Get in touch with fundraising@backuptrust.org.uk or visit our website for more information.