Spinal Injury Doesn't Need to Mean a Life of No Adventures

10 November, 2015

When I broke my back in 2008, my life as I knew it changed instantly.  Despite temporary paralysis to numerous years of surgery, health complications and treatments that followed, I was determined to one day get back to enjoying the outdoor sporting life once again.

The last 18 months has seen me finally achieve what was deemed no longer possible – back exploring mountains and the great outdoors. 

As the founder of BackStrong Adventures, I now dedicate my life to inspiring and supporting others throughout the world to believe in their dreams and the ability to undertake incredible adventures. The last few months has seen numerous activities that were deemed impossible not that long ago, including kayaking around Croatia’s Dalmatia coastline, exploring islands and hidden caves, abseiling, and exploring some of Scotland’s highest mountains.

The kayaking in Croatia was such a fantastic experience! “Although I have limitations with torso rotation, back strength and problems with the seating position of my spine, I was determined to not only take part in what was a great adventure, but ensure it was incredibly enjoyable.  Adapting challenges is what BackStrong Adventures is about, and as such, it was also time to try this out and put the adaptation to the test!!   As I had never kayaked before, I had no idea just how my back would cope, and without doubt I found it tiring but incredible rewarding, with incredible lifetime experiences that will never be forgotten.

The group’s kayak guide Stefano Canciani was very mindful of how each and every person was doing, and safety was number one priority.  The group was a nice small number, which made it easier to adapt day’s out if required – in saying that, the group always opted for longer routes (8km-20km kayaked each day) with fantastic exploring time on the islands to rest and stretch out the body!

Of course, actually travelling is never a particularly pleasant experience for me due to the instant pain when lifting luggage, or having to move bags. 

Wherever possible, I have to arrange for additional help, as well as travel with a back support for the seat, tablets and be able to keep changing my sitting position.   But habit has made this easier to do, if not stress free.

On returning to the UK, I did not take any rest time as the very next morning I ran my first 10k since breaking my back.  I knew the 10k was always going to be challenging, but the impact proved exceptionally hard on my back with severe pain suffered by the mid to latter stages and for several days after.  But to me it was worth pushing myself that extra bit, to see just what my body could achieve.  What a feeling – once I could catch my breath and relax my back!


Gillian Fowler lives in Scotland and is the founder of BackStrong Adventures - an outdoor adventure organization. She acquired a spinal cord injury a few years ago, falling off a horse.

Tags: Blog, Travel & Leisure