The Buckinghamshire WheelPower Sports Festival...
Casey is a 32 year old self proclaimed ‘adrenaline junkie’ from Cornwall who has always had a passion for sport and exercise. But following a mountain bike accident in 2021 her life changed. She is a T8 complete paraplegic, a primary school teacher, a yoga instructor, a mountain biker, nutritionist, and paddleboard instructor who is always on the lookout for her next adventure.
This is Casey’s story …
Growing up Casey and her family lived a very active lifestyle. They had a love for the outdoors and Casey and her brother followed in their Dads footsteps enjoying riding bikes, snowboarding, climbing, amongst many other pursuits.
This love for sport continued and Casey chose to study Nutrition at Plymouth University because of all the sporting opportunities available. “I’m from Manchester originally but I really wanted to go to University Plymouth because they had so many outdoor sports. I was in the mountain biking club, climbing club, surfing, and after uni I decided to stay in Cornwall to continue this way of life.”
In addition to her studies and university clubs Casey also enjoyed travelling and on one occasion went to South America for a year to develop her kite surfing skills, she competed in a round of the UK championships, and also raced on the local mountain biking circuit. In her words she was ‘always seeking the next adventure.’
In early 2021 however Casey was injured after coming off a 4 foot drop on her mountain bike. She continues, “I was at the Gawton Gravity Hub downhill tracks with my friends when I came off. I went over my handle bars, landed on my head and my body scorpioned. I had an electric shock through my body and lost the feeling in my legs instantly, so asked my partner and friend to ring the ambulance straight away. The pain was so intense, and I could feel something stabbing my in the back. I was so cold and I thought I was going to die. I had a helmet on, elbow pads, back protector, knee pads, and I know the helmet definitely saved my life.”
Casey was airlifted to Plymouth where they stabilised her spine with 2 rods and 8 bolts, after 11 days she was then moved to Salisbury spinal unit for 3 months. Unfortunately because her accident took place during the Covid pandemic this meant that she was only able to see her partner and family for 1 hour a day.
“My brother and his wife drove all the way down from Manchester for 10 minutes one day. Mum and dad used to come down and literally sit in the carpark during visiting to be close to me even though I couldn’t see them. They sat in the waiting room when they knew I had an x-ray just so they could wave at me as I went past, but I wasn’t allowed to see them.”
The support of Casey’s family and friends was so important to her after the accident and her parents have since stayed down in Cornwall, after giving up their jobs and house to move closer to Casey.
Reflecting on those first few weeks Casey explains how difficult it was, “One surgeon was very calm and gentle with his delivery of the news, telling me they would do what they can but the other one very blunt. ‘You need to get used to this, you will never walk again, you are going to be incontinent’ which was very full on. My dad and partner were there one day and I told them that I’m such an active person, and I just can’t live like this and subsequently spent the first 2 weeks thinking that I didn’t want to be here.”
After leaving hospital Casey arrived at the Salisbury Spinal Unit to continue her rehabilitation. She spent the first 2 weeks in isolation but then the turning point came, as she was finally able to move from her bed and propel herself in a wheelchair for the first time. She continues, “I went outside into garden and I thought OMG I can be independent, and I knew I was going to be alright. As time went on I started doing laps and getting my heart rate up. My wheelies were quite good and the physios always joked that I was better at being on wheels than transferring.”
Unfortunately due the pandemic the opportunities to play sport were not taking place as they would have done so previously. “We could go to the gym each evening and I would go on the bike to move my legs and stand to do my free weights. However it was during this time that I met Jack Sims (former WheelPower Physical Activity Advisor) who came in and spoke to me about adaptive biking and told me he would take me for a ride when I get out. We are now good friends and meet regularly for rides.”
Casey left Salisbury in July 2021 but after hearing about the Inter Spinal Unit Games from her physios she was full of excitement about coming. “Since being discharged I feel like there has been a bit missing. I’ve gone back to doing sport with my able bodied friends, but I’ve not really tried anything other than hand cycling and I wanted to give different stuff a go and see if I wanted to pursue any of them in the future.”
“I was a bit anxious during the long drive to Stoke Mandeville but when I got there I felt instantly amazing, it felt really nice to be in such an inclusive environment and everything was totally accessible. It was great being around other wheelchair users and I said to myself ‘I’m alright, I’m not in the minority here and I’m all good.’”
Alongside her teammates from the Salisbury Spinal Unit they started to move around the site and try all 16 wheelchair sports on offer. “The first one we did was wheelchair rugby and then after that I tried all of the sports I think, except for rowing, but my favourites were definitely rugby, basketball, table tennis, tennis, powerlifting and swimming. I used to love team sports at school/college but because I’ve gone down the adventure sports route I’ve not done any for ages. We were all helping each other and working together and I got so out of breath!”
“The sports chairs move so easy to move and the coaches were great too. It gave me so much confidence to try everything, and although I sometimes get a bit nervous in group situations everyone was so welcoming and friendly and made it so easy to have a go.”
On the final day Casey took part in a couple of the competitions and was delighted to reach the final of both the tennis and the table tennis. She tells us how she got on, “I felt easier in the table tennis final as Salisbury were going to win either way as I was playing my friend. Shaun (WheelPower Physical Activity Advisor and former player) gave us a few tips and showed me how to hold the bat the right way around which helped! In the tennis final I got a bit nervous because there was lots of people watching and kept hitting it into the net.”
An important part of the Inter Spinal Unit Games is the camaraderie and support of your teammates.
“There was eight on the Salisbury team and we are now friends for life. We spent the whole week cheering each other on and it was nice to know how each other was feeling. With my able bodied friends they have empathy but they don’t really understand. It was nice to know the hard times people have gone through and be cheered on from the heart.”
As well as winning many individual events the Salisbury Spinal Unit also collected the overall winners trophy as the best team of the Games. “It was amazing to win. The healthcare assistant who was there came over and gave me a big hug. She said you’d never ride your bike again and look at you now. I spent a lot of time crying to her at Salisbury so it was nice to celebrate the achievement together.”
After coming along to the Inter Spinal Unit Games Casey has been inspired by the opportunities available and is excited to incorporate some more wheelchair sport into her life back in Cornwall. “I’m going to carry on teaching adaptive yoga, and hopefully get some more adaptive mountain biking races in the UK. I am also now going to have a go at wheelchair basketball and I’m looking forward to joining my local team the Plymouth Fusion for a few sessions.”
Final words from Casey…
“I would absolutely recommend the Games to anybody with a spinal cord injury, it was life changing for me to enjoy sport again and connect with others that have been through similar situations. The feeling of a sense of belonging was the most special thing and I want to thank WheelPower and all the coaches for having us. I am stoked beyond words, it was the best event and a really wild ride with the most amazing people, and I wish we could do it all again.”
Thank you Casey for sharing your story with WheelPower and we wish you all the very best with all the amazing sporting activities you continue to fill your life with following a spinal cord injury.