Jonathan’s story: Supporting young people with a spinal cord injury

Jonathan, one of our mentors for Supporting young people with a spinal cord injury, waterskiing

Did you know that Back Up is the only charity in the UK with dedicated services for children and young people with a spinal cord injury? To deliver these services, we rely on support from volunteers who know what it is like to grow up with a spinal cord injury. Jonathan sustained his spinal cord injury at six months old. Now aged 25, he is helping us transform lives as a volunteer mentor. Read on to hear his story.

“I sustained my spinal cord injury at six months old, through Transverse Myelitis. I have an incomplete spinal cord injury at the C5 level. When I first sustained my injury I was very badly affected by it, and couldn’t walk at all. Now I can walk for short distances, but I use a manual wheelchair for longer ones.

“Because of my dad’s job, I grew up in the Middle East. This meant I never had the chance to access support from Back Up. Growing up, my biggest challenge was figuring out how to integrate myself with my non-disabled friends. I dealt with challenges my friends didn’t deal with like having to manage my bladder and bowels. Trying to understand how my disability affected me on a social level was the hardest part.

“I moved to England when I was aged 16 or 17. I went to do my A levels at a boarding school, which was a big step. It meant I was living by myself and gaining independence for the first time. While studying I became very active. I enjoy doing outdoor swimming and water-skiing. I get a sense of liberation when I do those things. Getting involved in these sports is how I encountered Back Up. I met Sophie, Back Up’s Spinal Cord Injury Mentoring Coordinator, at Access Adventures – an adaptive sports charity. We kept in touch and she told me about Back Up’s mentoring service. It was the perfect time for me to hear about it, as I was thinking about doing some volunteering.

“The reason why I volunteer with Back Up is because I would have loved a mentor when I was younger. It would have been good to have someone in a similar situation to look up to and talk about the challenges of living with a spinal cord injury.

“For me, mentoring is all about giving back and helping people who are struggling or looking for motivation.

“At the moment I am mentoring a boy who was injured at a very young age, so he is going through a lot of the same challenges I experienced. At that age you want to be independent, and show your friends that you can fit in with them. Having a spinal cord injury can be frustrating, as it can feel like your disability is holding you back. As his mentor, I provide a listening ear to hear his frustrations. It’s still early days, but over the course of our sessions I hope to build up a connection with him, and help him overcome challenges.

“When you are young it can be hard to understand the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of spinal cord injury. That’s why it’s useful to provide extra help for children and young people with a spinal cord injury. By providing support early on you can prevent bad habits from forming, and help people grow up with a healthier way of looking at things. “It’s important to make sure all young people have the best chances at life.

“In the future I am looking forward to using the Back Up services. I’m interested in being mentored myself – everyone could use some guidance once in a while. I also want to experience a Back Up course once Covid eases!”

We are very happy that Jonathan finds supporting young people with a spinal cord injury to be a rewarding experience. Discover how you can register for support yourself.