As a child Laura would be out on her bike, climbing trees, getting muddy and nothing much has changed now she is in her twenties. The only difference is that she had to move from two wheels of a bike to two/three wheels of a wheelchair.
Following an injury and surgery going wrong at the age of 11, Laura was left paralysed from T4/T3 and a severe ‘S’ shape curvature of the spine.
We’ve known Laura since she first tried the Mountain Trike back in 2013 – she was looking for a wheelchair that was off-road capable. When Laura took the Trike out around some local trails she was amazed at the technical ability and got ‘that feeling’ for the first time in years – to roll fast, down difficult terrain and just enjoy it. It was perfect – she was hooked and loved it!
Over the years Laura has followed her passion for the outdoors, studying Outdoor Activities at Manchester Metropolitan University. She also really focused on developing her instructing skills and has led on various outdoor activity courses, utilising her Mountain Trike to help highlight what can be possible for other wheelchair users. Laura loves to travel and has been to Whistler in Canada on several occasions taking part in multi-sports training camps.
Her passion extends to working hard to help improve access to the outdoors so everyone can independently have the freedom to explore, despite ability.
More recently Laura has been working for Able 2 Adventure an outdoor activity provider for people of all ages and abilities. As part of Laura’s career development, Able 2 Adventure Operational Manager, Gemma Hendry, has been exploring opportunities for Laura to work towards her Lowland Leader qualification.
The Lowland Leader qualification has been designed for people who wish to lead groups on day walks in lowland countryside and woodland in summer conditions. The majority of the UK and Ireland is made up of this type of terrain.
We caught up with Laura recently, who explained a little more about the course and she also highlighted the difficulties she experienced, for her as a wheelchair user to become a qualified instructor.
This is what Laura had to say,
“I’ve been working towards being able to go through my Lowland Leader training since I started University 6 years ago. It’s a qualification run by Mountain Training – the awarding body network in the UK, which makes sure you have the skills, experience and knowledge to confidently be able to take groups out in lowland regions of the UK. You need to be no further than around 3km from an access / escape point and no climbing is needed. Any climbing would take you to the next level of mountain leader qualifications.
To me this qualification is really important – not just as part of my career development as an outdoor instructor working for Able 2 Adventure, but also I was keen to push Mountain Training to make the outdoor more diverse and inclusive.
As far as I can tell I am the first full time wheelchair user to go through this award. It hasn’t been an easy process and has taken about 5 years to convince Mountain Training to let me participate. Over the last couple of years there has been disputes over my use of ‘mobility aid’ ie: wheelchair or Mountain Trike, and finding someone who would be willing to support me with the training whilst keeping an open mind.
Eventually, an appropriate trainer was found and this month I started my training with Stuart from Outlook Adventures who are based in Scotland. He has been fantastic and has seen no issues with my use of wheels and ability to lead. It is most likely that Stuart will provide my assessment and once qualified I can utilise my new skills as a lowland leader, which I’m really excited about.
I really hope that this will encourage other wheelchair users and people with a wide variety of disabilities and impairments to get on the career ladder in the outdoors so, like me, they to can follow their passion.
Despite Mountain Training highlighting that they are committed to ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity to attend their courses – it was quite a struggle for me. I want to thank Gemma at Able 2 Adventure for working hard and pushing Mountain Training to take me on and hopefully this has helped highlight to them that they need to be more inclusive and make the process a lot easier.
Here’s to seeing more outdoor wheelchair instructors!”