When Rowena was 31 years old, she suffered an unexpected inflammatory disorder of her spinal cord known as Transverse Myelitis.

Having worked in London for two years for the National Addiction Centre as a Research Officer in prisons, Rowena’s life changed dramatically when her injury struck, leaving her paralysed from the chest down.

“I’d had back pain for about four days and sought various forms of help; on the fifth day I knew I needed to take myself to hospital.”

Over the course of that day, Rowena lost the use of her legs, but was unaware at the time that she would lose that sensation permanently and never walk again. Rowena spent the next eight months in hospital, learning to adapt and to come to terms with the ways in which her life would change.

Unfortunately, Rowena was not eligible for supported accommodation in London and returned back to her hometown in Colchester in Essex, where she was able to be housed.

In 2010, Rowena set up Walk Colchester – an organisation that maps the walking environment in and around the town, and supports inclusive access to the countryside.

 “I grew up on a farm and enjoyed great freedom to roam. This desire never left me, but as a fulltime wheelchair user there were obvious limitations. Many of the barriers faced though are as much about poor or missing information, as about gates and stiles.”

An early Walk Colchester project also raised funds for an all-terrain wheelchair which is now available for community use in Colchester’s High Woods Country Park.

“The Boma 7 is a really powerful off-road chair originally designed by an outward-bound enthusiast – who is a chair user himself. It can tackle slopes and ditches, and cope with any kind of terrain, so it’s a lot of fun. Even when I’m not using it myself, I enjoy sitting outside the Visitor’s Centre drinking tea, waiting for the next punter to come along and watching them use it. It’s transformative for so many people. It’s really liberating”.

Following her introduction to the Boma, Rowena began looking at handbike options for her own use; one versatile enough to keep at home. She applied for an Aspire grant and was successful in her application for a Stricker powered handbike.

“The Stricker and the Boma really complement one another. They do different things – the Stricker isn’t all-terrain, but it has great battery life so it can really cope with distances. Importantly for me personally, I’ve got such ready access to it. I can use it directly from home, whenever I wish.”

Rowena has even found that her chronic pain is more manageable when she’s out on her handbike, “Over the years I’ve tried drugs and all sorts to minimise pain but I have found distraction, personally, to be my best weapon, and nothing distracts me more than being out and about in the countryside on the Stricker!”

“Of course the Stricker Handbike gives me a lot more freedom than I previously had, access-wise, but first and foremost it’s a huge amount of fun. It’s just as if you’d been after a motorbike all your life and just got given one for Christmas! It’s made a huge difference to my life, and I’ve got Aspire to thank for a large part of that.”  

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