Anna’s story: Learning from others
6 February 2019
Anna has a busy life. She is a motivational speaker, does youth work for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, and provides athlete mentoring for the University of Birmingham. She is a two time Paralympian and has won World Cup medals in alpine skiing.
Anna is also mum to her three-year-old daughter Sylvie. This, out of all the amazing things she does, is “the best part of it.” Anna has been on a long journey to get here since she was injured in 2006 while snowboard racing in Japan.
“I spent five weeks in a hospital in Japan. Knowing nothing about spinal cord injury or bladder and bowel care made it a scary time. I was nervous about the future, especially about how I would live a ‘normal’ life after my injury.”
When Anna returned to the UK, she was introduced to Back Up while at Stoke Mandeville, National Spinal Injuries Centre. She gained a massive boost to her confidence after she started attending our wheelchair skills training sessions. It made her feel fantastic to see fellow wheelchair users being able to get around with ease.
Anna also came along to one of our multi-activity courses. She felt rejuvenated, more confident and happier after finishing the course. She also grew close to her group leader, who she later married!
“My husband Pete was a group leader on the multi-activity course. We got along really well and ended up getting together. Years later, he proposed to me on the jetty we used back on the course!”
“The multi-activity course was really life changing. I came home from the Lake District and I felt like myself again. I don’t think I realised how depressed I was until the course brightened me up.”
Starting a new relationship after spinal cord injury was not without its difficulties, however. Anna found that her injury had affected how she perceived herself.
“My injury really affected my body image. I looked and felt different. I had lost some independence and had to learn new skills and accept my ‘new’ body.”
Fortunately, Anna made plenty of friends with a spinal cord injury that she could talk to. This made tackling concerns about relationships and intimacy – particularly with frustrations about sex – a lot easier.
“There were a few spinal cord injured people who I spoke openly with about sex and it helped normalise sexuality after spinal cord injury. Having friends to talk things over with is important. For me, talking with people who understand has been therapeutic.”
“Sex is different when you lack sensation. Like everything else, we learn to adapt and communicate. It is possible to have a fulfilling and fun sex life with a little exploration and an open mind.”
Having people to open up to also helped Anna greatly when she became a mum. Anna always knew she wanted to start a family. A close friend who also has a spinal cord injury shared her experiences of pregnancy, birth, and raising a child as a wheelchair user.
“My friend helped me realise that it can be possible to have a natural birth after spinal injury. Having someone to talk to helped a lot – pregnancy is intense even without a spinal cord injury! It’s very helpful to have a network of people who understand.”