I could say I had not experienced many adventures in my life before my spinal cord injury. I was offered the chance to go to Keswick on a Multi-Activity course organized by Back-Up., a spinal injuries charity. After some convincing, I decided to go and glad I did!
Heading to the North
Keswick was the furthest I had ever been from home on my own. Apart from eight months of rehab at the National Spinal Injuries Centre Stoke Mandeville. It was a long drive to the Lake District. The charity arranged a lift with a fellow paraplegic called Chris. This was also a first for me! Two permanent wheelchair users, driving around in a silver, 3 door VW Golf, packed with our stowed wheelchairs and luggage cramped in the back.
Reaching the beautiful Lake District after journeying up the M6 on three motorways was a story in itself, but we arrived at the Centre right on time for introductions.
And in a wheelchair!
During this course, I experienced many activities I have never thought possible whilst living with a spinal cord injury. I climbed Latrigg pretty much independently. It felt like climbing a mountain, but it is a small fell at the base of Skiddaw. From the top, it has amazing panoramic views of one of the largest bodies of water in the Lakes, Bassenthwaite Lake, and the town of Keswick. I also managed to paraglide later on during the course from this fell. We also canoed across the lake, spent a night camping and did some climbing activities.
The advantage of wheelchair skills
The wheelchair skills I had developed through trial and error before this Keswick course really helped me get around confidently. The centre is situated at Little Crosthwaite. With Skiddaw rising behind the flint brick accommodation. The car park was smooth but with a steep incline to the pool and sauna room. Adjusting the pushing technique enabled this climb to be easier to experience the steam room heat and pool. Using back wheel balance to descend Latrigg was hard! The path was just a riddle of stones, rocks, clumps of grass and some shale. The muscles in my lower arms and hands ached by the time I made it to the bottom.
Being able to independently get across the campsite on the edge of the lake felt good. Making sure I didn’t tip too far back when I lifted my front casters to keep them out of the rough, unkempt grass beneath me filled me with extra joy and confidence.
Home and away
After returning from this course, an opportunity to Ski in Colorado was on offer. Taking up this opportunity, the trip was arranged by the same group, and I was off! This was my first ever flight and my first ever crossing the Atlantic. The size of the Boeing was staggering. It still astounds me that these things can lift off and stay elevated!
I like the warm
Returning to the UK ten days later, with a new passion for adventure and excitement, but deciding skiing wasn’t for me! With all that cold, wet snow, yet beautiful countryside with astonishing views, I still wanted to find another source of enjoyment. Maybe an activity in a warmer environment? I knew there was a wheelchair basketball club in Aylesbury. I looked into it, and before I knew it, I was at a training session, sitting in a borrowed chair. During my 12 years of playing it, I’ve become fortunate enough to make many friends and see the country. Albeit through the window of my car, on the way to finding the sports centre.
27 years after my injury and being able to put all the nervousness at last at the back of my mind, I can honestly say I have the confidence to go anywhere, do pretty much anything and live a happy life. Some still might think it is pretty hard in these times, but the skills I have developed and trained other wheelchair users with, let me be as free as I aspire to be.
Wheelchair Training may continue after Boris; our PM makes his announcement later on regarding the road map out of lockdown. Watch this space.