I’d lived in Morzine for about six years, and life was pretty good. I worked at The Bec Jaune as a chef, a job I loved. I rode snowboards in the winter and bikes in the summer. On the 9th of January 2019, I had a snowboarding accident that changed my life forever. I fell 20 metres off a cliff in a whiteout and broke my back, damaging my spinal cord and leaving me a paraplegic.
It’s taken me a while to piece together what happened; I was pumping for speed, gradually turning toward the cliff, unaware of the impending danger and unable to see anything.
Then I felt that uneasy feeling of falling. I saw rocks. Sharp, scary looking rocks. A big, menacing-looking rock, approaching fast as I turned in the air. I actually remember thinking, I’m gonna hit that rock with my back.
“If you imagine going from fibre optic Internet back to Morse code, that’s how my brain communicates with my legs now.”
The next thing I remember was my friend Pete talking to ski patrol on the phone. Then I realised I couldn’t feel my legs and I knew it, there and then. I was paralysed.
It took six ski patrollers to get me off the very dangerous and steep section where I was stuck. They are true heroes; they deserve more recognition for their bravery. I owe them my life.
A lot of ketamine, morphine and a seven-hour spinal operation later, I awoke in the hospital. My girlfriend Lou was there. She had been through a lot by this point and her story is equally as traumatising.
My spinal cord was damaged at the T11 level. It’s called an incomplete injury, which means my spinal cord wasn’t severed, more squashed like a banana. If you imagine going from fibre optic Internet back to Morse code, that’s how my brain communicates with my legs now.
“I remember saying stuff like, “if I can’t snowboard or bike again, there’s no point in me even living”.”
When the doctors told me I’d probably never walk again, my initial reaction was very negative. I remember saying stuff like, “if I can’t snowboard or bike again, there’s no point in me even living”. It was pretty upsetting for Lou and my family, who were there by my side at this point.
But the great thing about being human is that we can adapt to situations very quickly, both physically and mentally. I realised life had a lot more to offer than leisure activities. I still had my upper body, the use of my arms. My head was uninjured, thanks to my helmet. I can do this, I thought. I have a second chance at life.
I was in hospital for some time and thanks to lots of morphine, it was pretty cruisy. I was surrounded by people that were broken like me. Some worse off, some not so bad. The realisation of what life would be like as a paraplegic hit me slowly. There were a lot of things that weren’t explained to me, that I had to find out from the internet and SCI support groups. There are lots of things people don’t realise about these types of injuries.
After that I moved to a rehab centre, where life was pretty easy, too. Anytime I needed help I just pushed a button and a nurse would (eventually) arrive to help me. I progressed pretty quickly at first, much quicker than anyone expected. When I say progressed, I mean I adjusted to life from the wheelchair. I still had yet to gain any voluntary movement below the level of my injury. They said I would have to stay at least three months before I could start the hôpital de jour, an outpatient service.
But I got bored and after six weeks I discharged myself so I could go sit-skiing. This was only nine weeks after my injury. A lot of people were shocked and surprised but I had to get back out there for my mental health. I had to convince myself life was worth living. If not, why bother?
During this time I also started a vlog, initially to keep close friends and family updated with my progress. Then the secret got out and I started to get a wider audience, which really spurred me on to continue. It was very therapeutic, talking it out to the camera and letting people know the ups and downs. I enjoyed knowing people were watching and cheering me on through my rehab journey. It was a huge part of my recovery process; I was very honest. People were impressed at how I handled it, and I’m even impressed at myself watching it back.
Once I moved home and started hôpital de jour, I started re-learning how to walk, which was a massive achievement. I can manipulate the spasticity in my legs to hold my body weight up and walk short distances with a walker. Whilst visually impressive, it’s not exactly practical. I can’t take my hands off the walker and I can only hold it for so long before I collapse. But hopefully it will lead to me regaining some more voluntary movement below my injury and who knows what’s possible in the future.
“We recently got a puppy named Luna, and she has helped me a lot.”
These spasms are a gift and a curse. Whilst they enable me to walk short distances, they are essentially involuntary and have really held me back in certain ways, sleep being the thing most affected. Waking up in pain from spasming legs and not being able to get comfortable is horrible.
Because of the vlog, people think that I’m a really positive person and I think I am, too. But this injury has tested me to my limits. Depression has been a huge setback for me, which hardly anyone knows about. All the struggles that happen behind closed doors that aren’t on the social media highlight reel are very real and incredibly tough.
It’s easy to get caught up in moments of regret or frustration at the things I am unable to do now. Keeping focused on goals for the future and not getting caught up thinking about the past have been essential to staying positive.
We recently got a puppy named Luna, and she has helped me a lot. Getting outside and teaching her to walk beside the wheelchair has been a good excuse to get out of the comfort zone of my house.
I try and keep busy with artwork and creative projects. I have a poker night every Monday with my friends, which is great. I recently got a bike attachment for the wheelchair that helps me get outdoors, which is really important.
I think the absolute number one thing that keeps me positive though, is my girlfriend Lou. She is amazing. No matter how much I annoy her, she is always positive, kind, loving and helpful. She has kept me going more than anything else.
I was also overwhelmed by the way the local community got together to help me with messages of support and fundraising to help cover the costs of living with a disability. However, our valley being a transient area means people come and go and it’s easy to get forgotten. Even though I have a close network of friends I feel very isolated sometimes, but I’m trying to positively redefine my place in the community.
It’s an odd situation. I’m the same me, but before I identified as a snowboarder, mountain biker, chef in a busy kitchen, and now I’m a paraplegic who is trying to figure out his new direction. My future plans were squashed with my spinal cord, and I haven’t quite worked out the new version of who I want to be and what I want to do, but I’m getting there. And I’m hopeful the future will be fulfilling and happy.