Alan’s story: The London Marathon

We recently spoke to Alan, who took on the London Marathon and raised over £4,500 to support our vital services. After he sustained a life-changing spinal cord injury, our confidence-boosting courses gave him the skills for independence needed to live life to the full.

Alan is an active volunteer for Back Up – and in April 2024 he made the big decision to participate in the London Marathon, pushing the entire 26-mile course in his wheelchair. Read on to hear how Alan’s challenge went, in his own words.  

“When I started experiencing back pain that wouldn’t shift, I knew something wasn’t right. An MRI scan found a tumour in my spinal cord. I was given the choice to have high-risk surgery with a 60:40 success rate or to have an MRI scan every six months to monitor it. I decided to have follow up scans, and I was relieved to be told the tumour wasn’t growing. 

“But then in early 2019 I was playing football and kept on falling over. I had lost my balance and I knew this was a potential sign that the tumour was beginning to impact my mobility. Another scan found a cyst on either side of the tumour. The surgery was successful, but I sustained nerve damage and a T10 incomplete spinal cord injury. I was told I would never be able to walk again. 

“And my stubborn streak came out. You never say never to me. I don’t give up. We adapted our home, and I used the horizontal bars in our toilet to help me practice putting one foot in front of the other. I have become a wheelchair tennis fanatic, I hand cycle and can now walk a few steps on a Zimmer frame. 

“I decided to tackle the London Marathon for Back Up because they have really helped me since I sustained my injury. They found me a mentor who had a similar injury and understood what I was going through. I also went on their multi-activity course – it was life-changing. I’m now a Back Up ambassador, giving talks to local businesses and schools, and I’m hoping to become a Team Leader for their Multi Activity Courses.

“Now I’m totally independent. I wasn’t before, but Back Up gave me the skills and encouragement I needed. On my marathon fundraising page I added a statement saying ‘whatever the card you’re dealt, deal with it’. That’s the decision I made – one choice was to give up, the other was to deal with it. Back Up helped me do the latter.

“The experience of the marathon was fantastic, with the crowd cheering you on and high fiving you. In the end I finished the marathon in 10 and a half hours – but with that amount of support, there was no way I was not going to finish!   

“I took on this challenge because I think that what Back Up does is tremendous. I’m a volunteer mentor at Back Up, and I think it’s great you can help people get independent after spinal cord injury. I love motivating people. However you’ve sustained your spinal cord injury, you have to remember it’s life-changing – not life threatening.  

“I’ve always helped other people, and doing the London Marathon for Back Up was just a continuation of that.  

We’d like to congratulate Alan, and everyone who took on the London Marathon for Back Up this year! Have you been inspired to take on a challenge yourself? Visit our website to get involved – and reach our to our team if you’d be keen to take on the 2025 London Marathon.