Before Mark sustained a spinal cord injury he lived a very active and outdoors life from his home in Kettering, Northants. He was 37, married with 3 small children and enjoying a mountain biking holiday in the Alps with friends when he had an accident that changed his life. Looking back at life pre-injury Mark told us how much he loved the outdoors, and the adrenaline that came from mountain biking.

“I was a devoted mountain biker and enjoyed being outside with my mates, with the kids or on my own. I’ve always been a bit of adrenaline junkie, enjoyed skateboarding, BMX and mountain biking and progressed over time to bigger mountains. I met my best mates through mountain biking, we were all like minded I suppose.”

Mountain Biking was Mark’s favourite hobby, and although he tried a few small events it was the recreational and social side of biking that he enjoyed the most. Hitting the trails with his mates, feeling the freedom and flow of being outdoors, in the woods, or in the mountains.

In the Summer of 2023 Mark and his friends headed to the Alps in France. It was hot, and perfect conditions for riding. Earlier in the week they had found a trail they really enjoyed, so headed back to the top before they started the descent. Mark continues,

“This trail was the best one we’d ridden on all holiday, it was fast and flowing and we couldn’t wait to give it another go. It was a green trail so would have been something we’d do day in day out. I remember taking photo of the nearby lake from the top and I don’t remember anything after that! I woke up the next day in intensive care. Apparently, I was conscious throughout but I don’t remember much. I remember seeing my goggles on my helmet on the floor, it being quite dark and my face being face down in the gravel. I remember the helicopter, the intense heat coming through the windows on my face. I remember an oxygen mask being put on my face and that’s the only memories I’ve got.”

Mark was airlifted to a hospital in Geneva where the extent of his injuries was realised. He had broken his back at T12, broke his collarbone, 4 ribs and a finger.

“The doctors think I passed out when I was riding, went over the handle bars, landed on my bottom and bounced onto my head. My T12 vertebrate was pretty much shattered so they had to do a lot of work, so I have quite a bit of metal in there now.”

After 2 and a half weeks Mark was transferred by ambulance back to the UK to a hospital near to home so his family could come and visit him. After 4 months he received news that he’d been given a bed at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville where he was able to continue his rehabilitation with the specialist physios and equipment he needed.

“I met lots of good people and friends at Stoke, and was good to chat to the other charities. Sport and activity were probably the biggest factor for me. I would go to the gym, and if it wasn’t for the sport at the stadium I would have discharged myself sooner! It was so good for my mental health and my physical health. It really was the best part of the week. I lived for the Monday afternoon sessions with the physios. There was also a group on Wednesday and on Thursdays I used to escape down to play rugby with the Stoke Mandeville Maulers with WheelPower Physical Activity Advisor and coach Bob O’shea.”

Although Mark missed the spinal games that year he heard a lot about WheelPower through advisors Ella & Bob and made sure he was following the charity on socials so he could see what events they had coming up. After leaving the unit in March 2024 he started playing wheelchair rugby with the Northampton Saints and now regularly returns to Stoke Mandeville to play competitions. Before leaving the unit he also heard about the Learn to Ski day from WheelPower and signed himself up.

“I had no real expectations of what was going to happen on the day and if they would just stick you in it, send you down and see what happens! I also thought it was going to be like tobogganing with the kids but that definitely wasn’t the case either. You turn up and its very professional in how you are met by the coaches, which was very welcoming and reassuring. They made me feel at ease and my instructor was really good at communicating and told me what we are doing, what we were going to work on and how we do it. The actual format of the skiing was a case of, you can do that, let’s move onto the next bit. I was confident in my ability and it was a gradual progression as we went higher up the slope.”

Reflecting on the day Mark is now keen to continue to build on what he learnt and see where that might take him. “When I’m more independent in terms of transport I would absolutely love to have another go and do it again. Maybe I could get to the top of the big slope next time!”

“It was an amazing experience and a pleasure and a privilege to meet you all and be taught by the coaches from Disability Snowsport UK. I cannot recommend it enough. While the camera doesn’t do the speed justice it felt like I was going at 50mph! Get yourself along to their events! You won’t regret it.”

As Mark’s confidence continues to grow he is also excited to discover other opportunities out there for people with spinal injuries, and perhaps getting back to the trails on an adapted mountain bike. “I would love to try a bowhead and to get back out there. Although I won’t be sending it like I was before I will enjoy the slower pace, and time with my mates. I just need to get it signed off by my wife now!”

Final words …

“Thank you so much! You are all fantastic and its brilliant what you are doing. I don’t think you don’t realise how much people appreciate you guys and charities like WheelPower. It gives people in wheelchair and people with disabilities the chance to experience something. If you said to me 6 months ago, do you fancy skiing and I would have probably said ‘nah no thanks’ to be honest but then you get this chance to do it, and I will say it was one of the best things I’ve done for a very long long time. Everyone was great and having a great time.”

“The only limitation in life is our imagination. A year on from my injury I’m fully independent and trying to make my life in wheelchair as fun and thrilling as it can be!” Mark Holland, 37 from Kettering