Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research Ambassadors play a vital role in communicating everyday life of living with a spinal cord injury and how our research can help improve quality of life.  Here, Ralph Charlwood tells his story about why he volunteered to be one of our Ambassadors...

My Ambassador story starts on a Sunday morning, 2nd March 1997. I was 26 and mountain biking in woods, near Maidstone, with a friend. A wet period had been followed by a cold snap and Land Rover tyre ruts had hardened. With a sense of invulnerability combined with a competitive streak, I approached a bend with more speed than skill and, quite literally, got stuck in a rut and careered off the path. I don’t remember much of the accident but six inches to the left, and I would have hit the tree head-on. Six inches to the right and I might have walked away, badly grazed and shaken. Instead, I was air-lifted from the woods by Kent Air Ambulance, firstly to Maidstone General, and then onto Stoke Mandeville. I collapsed both lungs, broke my jaw in three places and broke numerous ribs. Those all healed. A complete ‘burst’ fracture of the spinal cord, did not. I wheeled out of Stoke Mandeville some seven months later. Ralph Charlowood Ambassador

At the time of the accident, I was a young Chartered Surveyor, working for one of the prestigious, global, real estate consultancies. I was young enough to not really be thinking about my future in any detail.

 Looking back on that future, it has had its ups and downs. It’s impossible to say whether the spinal injury was a trigger for some of my subsequent actions. I started (and finished) an online MBA, I went on secondment, subsequently joining that company and then undertook a tangential career change into real estate finance. I was involved in growing a start-up business which was then sold, enabling me to become financially independent. Like many things in life, money can make things more palatable and that is especially true of wheelchair living, travel for example.

I am now nearly 50 and life is pretty okay. I am married, we have a beautiful dog and spend plenty of time on the south coast. I indulge myself in various hobbies and the whole wheelchair ‘thing’ is mostly manageable. I am not immune to some of the problems that Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research are trying to tackle, though, which is why I am delighted to be an Ambassador for SMSR.