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.


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.

Learn more here about taking on a challenge for Back Up.