In 2014 after sustaining my final injury due to complications of an operation I have spent the last 10 years adjusting to my new body. Initially being paralysed from the neck down I required assistance for all aspects of care.  After a considerable period in a General Hospital I regained movement and sensation down the right-hand side, but I'm still partially paralysed down the left side of my body.  I use crutches to move around short distances but for anything longer I have a mobility scooter or a wheelchair. As a walker I do have off days, I have bladder and bowl issues and spasticity causes problems with my gait pattern but overall, I live independently and have an enjoyable lifestyle.

Jo, Independent Living Advisor in Southport

In 2019 I started work as an Independent Living Advisor for Aspire in the Southport Spinal Injury Centre. I love my role and the satisfaction I get from talking to people affected by Spinal Cord Injury is a privilege.  I can give suggestions, offer advice, and signpost patients to services that they may not be aware of that will really help them.  Some of the services I talk about frequently are those offered by other spinal injury charities such as SIA and Back Up.  Like Aspire, both charities work tirelessly to support people affected and living with spinal cord injuries and their families.

One of the services I often recommend to other are the courses run by Back Up. The courses aim to increase confidence and independence and allow people to participate safely and learn from others.  As the courses are something I've always been interested in, I decided to apply for the adult multi activity course and was fortunate enough to be accepted to join the Exmoor one in April 2024.

Jo in a canoe

Before I travelled to Exmoor for the course, I was nervous and a bit apprehensive as I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what the people who were on the course would be like and I didn't know if I would enjoy the activities.  To be perfectly honest, when I arrived on the Monday evening I still wasn't sure if I'd made the right decision; at 44 years old I'm not used to doing new things and putting myself out there and out of my comfort zone.  Thankfully, after a lovely meal, meeting with the rest of the participants and a good night’s sleep, I woke up on the Tuesday morning ready to start the day.

From 8:30am when I sat in the dining room for breakfast with the other participants, buddies, carers, PAs and Back Up staff, those worries and concerns I had disappeared.  It was clear we were all a bit nervous but overall, looking forward to what the week would bring… and what a week!  


Over the next few days, I participated in wheelchair skills sessions, abseiling, wall climbing, canoeing and horse riding. I went on a zip wire, a giant swing, shot a crossbow and a bow and arrow.  During the evenings the staff arranged for Exmoor Zoo to bring some animals in and there was a karaoke party on the last night!  The days and nights were packed and the whole week was just brilliant.

Jo absailing

With the support of the instructor, the equipment they provided and the encouragement from the other participants, I achieved things I thought I would never do.  All the equipment ensured I completed the activities safely and securely, and I was given the time to do it at my own pace.  There was equipment used by other participants which enabled them to join in activities such as abseiling in an adapted wheelchair, which everyone seemed to enjoy.

Though the activities where fun and I got a great sense of achievement by completing them, the thing I love most about my week away was meeting the other participants. There was a real sense of coming together and achieving things we perhaps thought we might not be able to do again.

We also had some funny times, we encouraged each other, laughed at each other, and I am so pleased to have met such wonderful people.  It was also nice to be around people who understand what you are going through; they understood that sometimes you might be a bit late because of bowel or bladder issues, they offered suggestions about what works for them and how they do things, people shared advice about equipment and shared tips and tricks about how they do everyday activities.  Since leaving the hospital nine and a half years ago this was my first opportunity to be around a group of people with Spinal Cord Injury for such a prolonged period. If it wasn't for my job with Aspire and visiting the Spinal Injury Centre, I could go for weeks or even months without speaking to somebody else with a spinal cord injury.  

Jo and others in canoes

Completing the multi activity course has definitely given me a confidence boost and it has sparked an interest in pursuing water-based activities such as canoeing, as this was something I always loved doing before my injury and now know I can achieve it and - more importantly - enjoy it.  The course also made me realise I should push myself and try new things when the opportunity arises, especially with the support and encouragement from like-minded people.

Jo loves spending time with her family

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