David’s story: Group leading for the first time

Eleven years ago, David was out for a ride on his motorbike when he was involved in a road traffic accident. The crash left him paralysed from the chest down with a T4 level spinal cord injury.

“The effects of my injury were just massive, completely life-changing. After your injury, you really don’t know how you’re going to get back to what you did before. You’re constantly having to find new ways of doing things you previously didn’t give a second thought to.”

Learning to adapt to his new life is what led David to Back Up. He came along to our wheelchair skills training sessions during his stay in hospital. These sessions didn’t just help him learn skills to live an independent life – like tackling kerbs and one-handed pushing – they also allowed him meet other people who have lived with a spinal cord injury for a longer time.

“The sessions in the spinal centre gave me a lot of knowledge to tackle day-to-day challenges. It was fantastic to speak to the outreach and support team too. I gave them my details, and we kept in touch when I went home.”

David has been a champion of Back Up’s work ever since. He applied to become a wheelchair skills trainer two years after his injury and has been a keen volunteer for the past decade. Teaching wheelchair skills keeps David very busy. Volunteering gave him the opportunity to teach wheelchair skills at spinal centres and units all over the UK, from Sheffield to Glasgow.

David teaching a group of young people how to back wheel balance

David teaching a group of young people how to back wheel balance

“Overall, I’ve taught in eight of the eleven spinal centres and units in the country. There’s just a few down south I haven’t delivered a session at yet. I also teach wheelchair skills on courses every year.

”I really enjoy seeing the change in people when they realise why we do the skills and it all kind of clicks. People often contact me after a course to tell me what they’ve achieved at home.”

David has personally benefited from the amazing impact of our courses. He came along to our Colorado sit-skiing course and instantly fell in love with winter sports.

“That course opened up so many new possibilities. It was my first ever flight and my first ever time skiing. It showed me that trying new things was still possible, and I felt so much more confident afterwards.

”Since then, I’ve gone skiing a few times with other groups. It takes a bit more planning to go on long-haul flights with a spinal cord injury, but I know I can do almost anything with enough planning. I’m no longer hesitant to go anywhere or do what I want.”

David going over a jump using a sit ski

David hitting the slopes on one of his own skiing trips

David has taught wheelchair skills on our under-13s multi-activity course for the past four years, and he’s always impressed by our young course participants.

“Kids learn fast and have no fear. It’s great fun to teach them wheelchair skills. You can usually jump right in to the more advanced skills because they already know techniques like back wheel balancing.”

David loved working with that age group, so he decided to take on a new challenge and group led our under 13s multi-activity course for the first time this year. Back Up group leaders are there to support and encourage all course participants, while coordinating activities and other volunteers.

“I really enjoyed it. There’s quite a bit of similarity between group leading and teaching wheelchair skills. It’s all about making sure everything runs smoothly.

”A big part of it is making sure everyone is happy. We kept everyone entertained in the evenings, making sure the kids had activities and wheelchair skills games to try out.”

Although there was added responsibility, David found his first ever course as a group leader very rewarding. Seeing everyone head home at the end of week happy and full of confidence felt very satisfying.

“I’d recommend volunteering as a group leader to anyone. If you’re already considering it, you should go for it! Get in touch with the Back Up office and find out what opportunities are available.”

We’re very glad to hear that David’s first time as a group leader was successful, and we’re extremely grateful for his long-term service as a volunteer. Are you interested in volunteering on our courses? Get in touch with Merryn.