Rich’s story: Becoming a wheelchair skills trainer

New Beginnings

Luke in his living room at home

In 2009, Rich was on an exciting holiday in Cyprus with a group of close friends. One day, they were all scuba diving off the coast. Everything was going well, but suddenly Rich and his friends realised that they had much less air than expected – forcing them to rapidly ascend from a depth of 40 metres. While his friends only had minor effects from decompression sickness (commonly known as the bends), Rich sustained a complete spinal cord injury at T4 level.

‘‘The accident has really given me a new, very different perspective on life. In many ways, it’s changed my priorities.’’

Rich went to the Glasgow Spinal Injuries Centre for his rehabilitation, and that’s where he first met Back Up, as a participant on a wheelchair skills session. The training had an enormously positive impact on Rich. He realised that with the right skills, he could still live a full life as a wheelchair user.

‘‘I remember those sessions as being hugely important to me. In many ways, the skills I learnt there formed the building blocks to the active life I now enjoy.’’

It was in 2016 that Rich got back in touch with Back Up after his Dad remembered hearing about the courses and other services the charity offers. At that time, Rich wanted to challenge himself physically and see if he could still have a fun and active life as a wheelchair user. He certainly found what he was looking for.

‘‘I went on one of Back Up’s skiing courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I made some lasting friendships too. The connections you make are amazing as are the challenges.’’

Following the course, Rich wanted to get more involved with Back Up. The wheelchair skills sessions during his rehabilitation had such a positive impact on his life that he became a trainer so he could pass on those vitals skills to other newly injured people. This is his first volunteer role, but one he’s taken to like a natural.

‘‘People go through a journey and it’s amazing to help in what might only be a small part of that process but one that for me was really important. It is amazing to see someone grow in confidence. People who, at the start of the session, believe they can’t get up a curb on their own end up leaving with the skills to do it themselves or the confidence to ask for the correct support.’’

Like many of Back Up’s volunteers Rich works full time. His job at Enable is a world away from the work he did before sustaining his injury. And while he knows there are jobs that have bigger financial gains, his priorities are more centred around giving back and supporting others.

‘‘The work I’m doing now is much more rewarding than anything I imagined I’d be doing before the accident. It’s a job where you can help people. For me the rewards from helping people are far greater than any monetary gains would be.’’

Looking forwards, Rich would like to broaden his reach as a trainer and develop his teaching style.

‘‘I’d like to be a trainer on as many courses as possible and hope to be involved in the wheelchair skills extra session that we’re hoping to do in Glasgow later this year. Those sessions are so important. Patients get to try the skills they’ve learnt on the ward in the real world.’’

When he was asked what the best thing about being a new trainer was, Rich simply said.

‘‘I know it sounds corny but it’s the smiles on peoples’ faces…. that’s why I do it.’’

If you would like to find out more about volunteering as a wheelchair skills trainer, please get in touch with our Outreach and Support Manager, Andy M, by email or call him on 020 8875 1805.