Will’s story: Power chair skills and independence

Will, one of our power chair skill trainers

After spinal cord injury, one of the hardest parts can be feeling like you’ve lost your independence. At Back Up, we are here to help give you the confidence needed to live an independent life. Will is one of our volunteers, and he gives up his time to teach newly injured people how to live independently as a power chair user.

Will sustained his spinal cord injury in 2012 during a charity triathlon. His injury resulted in complete damage to his spinal cord at the C4 level, and he now uses a chin-controlled power chair.

“During the cycling leg of the triathlon a stick got caught in my front wheel, which stopped it dead. I was sent over the handlebars, landing on the right side of my neck. It was quick, but the impact was significant.”

Prior to his injury, Will was living an active life. He worked as an assistant manager at a hotel, and enjoyed running, cycling, and canoeing around his home in the Lake District. His injury was massively life-changing. Above all else, Will wanted to live life to the full again. Back Up was there to teach him the skills needed to live independently.

“When I was in the spinal centre, I found out about Back Up for the first time. I was paired up with a mentor who was just like me – young, active, and outgoing – but he also had a similar spinal cord injury. My mentor encouraged me to get into my power chair for the first time and join in with Back Up’s power chair skills training.”

Back Up didn’t just introduce Will to others in a similar situation, we gave him valuable practical skills as well. Our volunteer power chair skills trainers showed him how to use his chin-controlled chair.

“Back Up’s power chair skills training showed me what was possible. I learned how to manoeuvre my chair, get over thresholds, and navigate different terrain. It was good to learn these skills from people with shared experiences.”

Will, one of our power chair skill trainers enjoying the great outdoors

Will enjoying the great outdoors with his power chair

The skills he learned helped Will when he left the hospital. It was difficult for Will to adapt to being off the ward, without the wide corridors and smooth surfaces he was used to. By putting his new wheelchair skills into practice, Will was able to step up to any challenges and start living independently again.

Since then, Will has been prolifically involved with Back Up. He joined our Belfast City Skills course, went ski karting in Sweden, and has also volunteered to support other people in a similar situation. Will trained as a power chair skills trainer, so he can help others learn skills for living independently.

“Everyone affected by spinal cord injury needs support, and Back Up is there to help. As a volunteer power chair skills trainer, I’ve helped support everyone from children to people in their 70s.”

Unfortunately, Back Up has had to put these vital face-to-face support services on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since March 2020, all of Back Up’s services have been online only. To prevent newly injured individuals from missing out on these vital services, we’ve been working hard to create new digital offerings. As part of this, we created a new wheelchair skills app.

The Back Up wheelchair skills app is packed full of video tutorials explaining wheelchair and power chair skills, from basic movements to day-to-day skills for living independently. Will kindly volunteered to make videos for this app, demonstrating some of the power chair skills he benefitted from when he was in hospital.

“I know that I would have benefitted a lot from the wheelchair skills app when I was newly injured. I think it’s great that Back Up is getting this information out there when we can’t support people in person.

“It’s good to have that knowledge freely available. Practicing skills at home can give you that extra bit of confidence.”

Do you want to learn or further hone your vital wheelchair skills and power chair skills where ever you are? Download our wheelchair skills app on Android or iPhone.