According to Spinal Research UK, more than 50,000 people in the UK and Ireland are living with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury.
Many of those living with this type of diagnosis are defined as being tetraplegic - which is paralysis in both an individual’s arms and legs.
After experiencing a severe spinal injury while on holiday, we spoke to our wheelchair-based gym member Reece Kempley, who explains why Ability Bow is helping him to live life and face the day again.
Reece Kempley knows how close he was to losing his life.
While on holiday in the Greek island of Corfu, the Ability Bow wheelchair gym member became the target of a prankster’s cruel joke which left him with initial paralysis from the neck down.
“I’d gone on holiday with a couple of friends after just breaking up with an ex-partner,” recalls 24-year-old Reece.
“I’d just thought it would be a nice fun lads holiday to distract me from feeling down and given I live with epilepsy and some people’s vices can be drink to get them through pain, I thought otherwise just having a tea-total but laugh-filled holiday would be a great way to feel better.”
But just days into his trip, Stepney-Green-based Reece was requiring emergency surgery on what was devastating spinal damage.
Reece explains: "While I didn’t drink and tried being sensible, we still went on a boat party and it was a good laugh for a few hours.
“But as we were about to disembark and we were all lined up on the pier ready to leave - there wasn’t a safety rail to protect us from falling in the water - my friends and I were chatting to a group of girls and one of them asked if I could swim and I said ‘’’I’m not bad’’’.
“And then she pushed me in the water and on to the seabed and as it was really shallow I fell straight on the bottom and hit my neck.”
Rushed immediately to intensive care in Greece, Reece experienced a three week hospital stay before returning to the UK and considering how to transition from his holiday trauma to everyday life again.
“I felt really desperate when I returned home and really didn’t know what to do or where to turn for support,” Reece adds.
Upon returning home to Tower Hamlets, Reece was required to find fundraising fast to support his wellbeing. Desperate for specialist help, Reece and mum Rachel set up a crowdfunding page appealing for locally-based disability-focused physiotherapy.
After a temporary stint at the Aspire rehabilitation centre in Stanmore, Reece and his family felt more consistent ongoing support - and based nearer to his then temporary accommodation on the Isle of Dogs - was desperately required.
“I just didn’t want to go out at all at that time and felt a massive stigma too being in a wheelchair which made me feel so deflated,” Reece says.
But thanks to a personal approach to Reece from our long-term health conditions and disabilities exercise rehabilitation service in late April last year - after spotting Reece’s appeal in the Docklands and East London Advertiser newspaper - Reece referred to our Ability Bow service soon after through his local hospital.
“I’d not known where to go after my stint at Stanmore, which just wasn’t feasible due to accessible transport, cost and distance issues, so I knew we needed support nearby and that’s when we found Ability Bow,” Reece adds.
Joining our gym in October 2018, Reece quickly found both the physical and - even more importantly - mental health benefits of our gym to be incredibly beneficial.
Participating in our gym’s initial 12 week one-to-one rehabilitation with our fully-qualified advanced fitness instructor, Patrick Trotman, Reece was thereafter able to heavily enhance his fitness; so much so by the end of his first trainer-client support sessions, he was able to move to independent wheelchair-based exercise.
Currently focusing on MOTOmed bicycle-led workouts to strengthen his arm movement - which Reece says are rare at most gyms bar those found within centres like Aspire and Ability Bow - and working on developing his triceps to enable him to fulfil his target of moving from a bed to wheelchair as part of his daily home routine, Reece is feeling much fitter and stronger five months into his membership here.
Reece says: “It’s been a significant change physically since being here, as I’m being really boosted by Patrick, the instructor team and other members at Ability Bow to try and lose weight, regain stamina and develop my cardiovascular system and I feel there’s some great gradual progress.
“But it’s also mentally too, as I really didn’t do much before Ability Bow and just sat at home quite a lot of the time, so rather than letting go of motivation and mental health, Ability Bow is really making a lasting difference in helping my everyday wellbeing.”
Why Reece Recommends Our Gym
For avid Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (FC) fan Reece - who is another member to join our otherwise Arsenal FC heavy gym - being part of our service has significantly aided his progress. But what stands out to Reece about joining Ability Bow (which has supported more than 4,000 disabled people into exercise since forming in 2006)?
“When first being in a wheelchair, I felt I suffered a lot and encountered huge confidence challenges to get out and live with my condition as people look at you a lot,” Reece says.
“Ability Bow is just amazing as it has no stigma, which means so much to anyone who feels challenged by someone who views disability negatively.
“If you go to an open/commercial gym, people around you can get intimidated and awkward with someone with a disability and you feel there’s even a distance between the trainers and a disabled person when exercising too.”
But for Reece - who had planned to go to university and was accepted on to a study sports science course at the University of East London, before losing interest after sustaining his spinal injury - he says Ability Bow has taught him to ‘give it his all’ and ‘never give up’ mentally.
Reece adds: “When I first attended the gym, Patrick told me exactly what I needed based on what I said and tailored each session perfectly.
“This meant when I did my own independent sessions I referred back to what he’d taught me; him and the trainers are top people!”
Previously taking football coaching lessons and looking to work within sports and fitness fields, Reece - who is currently living in temporary accommodation while working on developing his health and wellbeing and aiming to sustain future employment - says thanks to Ability Bow, he’s able to make some positive predictions about a brighter future.
Reece adds: “I feel like there’s a chance to keep building on something better for me and my family, all thanks to places like Ability Bow; which has also got me out and socialising with friends far more.
“I’d love to take up a sports or fitness job and given my experience at the gym and the inspiration I’ve gained, I’m beginning to see I can make steps towards positive health and wellbeing again.”
Find Out More
To find out more about our disabilities and long-term health conditions service - which works with people living with neurological conditions, to those with MS or Parkinson’s:
To help people like Reece to access more life-changing therapy and facilities: