Kath’s Story: ‘I felt empowered’ after the Spinal Circuit challenge

Read on to discover how Kath took part in our Spinal Circuit challenge last March and found a new online community.

Every spinal cord injury is as unique as the person who sustains it. In Kath’s case, after entering the Royal Air Force, at a time when women were just starting to have careers as aircrew, she started noticing pain in her back. After moving from flying jets in training to helicopters, she sought support from chiropractors and physiotherapists, but continued having trouble with her back.

“Life started getting harder. Then one day, after returning from a ski trip with the RAF ski team, I stood up and collapsed. I stumbled back to where I was based but never worked in the Air Force again.”

Kath’s lower spine had collapsed. After spinal fusion surgery, fusing L4 and S1, the recovery was slow. Kath still experiences pain and occasional leg paralysis.

“My house is fully adapted so I can manage unaided at home. And I can walk short distances with a walking aid. But if I go out for a full day, I need to use a wheelchair.”

After reading about the Spinal Circuit on Facebook, Kath decided to take on the challenge. But she hadn’t run since 1996. For Christmas, Kath’s husband bought her a pair of rebound shoes, fitted with a spring system which compresses and absorbs the impact running has on her joints.

“The first time I put the boots on, I was scared. I used to practice by following online classes at home. I was really worried about pain. But I went from the safety of the online classes, to the street. I had to have either my partner or one of my two children walk alongside me, and we’d do about a quarter of a mile. I didn’t feel confident enough to run alone. But the more I went out, the more my confidence grew and my speed and distance started to increase. Slowly my family started having to jog, just to keep up with me!”

With her new found confidence, Kath set her Spinal Circuit challenge to run 25km in March. This meant Kath would need to run twice a week for the first two weeks, and then add in a few extra runs for the last two.

“After the first three weeks, I reached 25km! But I knew I could push myself further, so I increased my target to 30km. What’s empowering about the Spinal Circuit is that you set the distance. Physically, I’m unable to run a 5km or half marathon. This challenge allowed me to set a target that felt realistic, but aspirational, for me.”

Kath also found herself welcomed into a new community.

“The Facebook group was lovely. It was great to get to know new people and see the achievements of everyone involved. Everyone was doing their own challenges – running, wheeling and walking – all in different conditions, up and down the country. Everyone supported each other, which I found to be really motivational.”

“The best part of the community is that I never felt judged. Because I walk and use a wheelchair, I sometimes feel judgement coming from others. But in this community, I felt empowered. I realised that I shouldn’t let anyone’s perceptions of me impact what I do.”

“People in my local village started seeing me on my runs, and would walk alongside me or cheer me on from the other side of my street. The challenge even got my kids running! I felt support all around me.”

Kath completed the Spinal Circuit challenge, running 30Km in total, and raised over £1,200 for our vital services.

“The feeling of completing the challenge gave me such a high. The Spinal Circuit has really helped me build my confidence, and has helped me physically. I’m proud to say I’ve continued running, since the challenge. And I’m even starting to plan a different challenge for Back Up in the future.”

Sign up for the Spinal Circuit

Are you looking to take on a challenge in 2022? Then check out our Spinal Circuit challenge. Run, walk or wheel a distance you decide and help us complete a virtual circuit of all the spinal centres in the UK and transform even more lives affected by spinal cord injury.