Alice’s story: Talking about relationships and spinal cord injury

Alice and Gavin, a couple who learned to navigate their relationship after spinal cord injury

At Back Up, we’re very proud to support a diverse community of people affected by spinal cord injury. Alice – a university lecturer who specialises in animal welfare and legislation – does not have a spinal cord injury herself, but her husband Gavin sustained a C4 level complete injury before they met. Read on to discover how Alice and Gavin navigated dating and their relationship around Gavin’s spinal cord injury, and how they now help others live life to the full.

Meet Alice: 

  • University Lecturer
  • Loves walking in the Lake District
  • Family Mentor

Gavin and Alice met online while they were both living in York. They met for a coffee, and their relationship snowballed from there. In those early days, Alice says that their mutual honesty and willingness to communicate about Gavin’s spinal cord injury was crucial for building the strong foundation their relationship has.

“It’s important to be open and straightforward right from the start while dating with a spinal cord injury. Gavin told me that if I had any questions to just ask him, and he would give me an honest answer.

“Gavin was injured for 15 years at this point, so he already had a lot of experience living well with his spinal cord injury.  He was very open about any challenges he faced and how he got around them.”  

This clear communication was vital to navigating any challenges posed by Gavin’s injury. About six weeks into their relationship, Alice was worried that there would be some things she enjoyed that would be inaccessible to Gavin. 

“My parents have a time share in the Lake District. We love walking around Keswick, but I got it in my head that Gavin wouldn’t be able to join us. 

“I went round to Gavin’s and told him about my worries. He said that if there’s something you want to do, we just need to talk about it. There’s always a way we can figure it out.”  

Six months later, the couple went up Latrigg in the Lake District together.

“This was the first time Gavin had seen the view from the top of a mountain! It was the first time I properly realised that anything is possible, you just need to plan things out a bit more and ask for help.”

Alice and Gavin, a couple who learned to navigate their relationship after spinal cord injury, hiking together

Alice and Gavin live an active life together

Alice and Gavin have now been together for six years, and have since married. Having successfully navigated plenty of challenges, Alice enjoys supporting others in a similar situation. At the tail-end of the Covid-19 lockdown, Alice discovered the Back Up Lounge – an online space for everyone affected by spinal cord injury.

“It’s easy to get bogged down in the things you can’t do, but the conversations you have in the Back Up Lounge can really help spark new solutions.

“I remember speaking with someone who was worried about their partner’s bladder stone operation. We had already been through the same procedure, so I was able to reassure them and let them know how we coped with it.”

Now, Alice has decided to use her experience to support Back Up’s life-changing services. She volunteers as a family mentor, helping equip others with the knowledge needed to live life to the full.

“The number one tip I give to the family members I support is that they need to let go of their previous perceptions of relationships. We’re taught from a young age by society what relationships should look like. You need to let go of those preconceptions and live in a way that makes both you and your loved ones happy.

“I would also absolutely recommend speaking with a charity like Back Up. You’ll meet people who have gone through what you’re experiencing. The information is all there, you just have to ask for support!”

Family volunteers like Alice are crucial to delivering Back Up’s vital work. If you or your loved one need support after spinal cord injury, check out our range of services or get in touch with our team.  

Or perhaps like Alice and Gavin you fancy climbing a mountain? Learn all about our Snowdon Push challenge here