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Those who achieve remarkable physical feats after experiencing a spinal cord injury can be a source of inspiration for others. Learn about two such people — Layth Abdulla and Kris Aves.
This article is based on multiple sources, including interviews conducted by Sue Lennon. Sue is a nurse, therapist, educator, and coach with nearly three decades of experience in oncology nursing – including urology and stoma care. She values nurse-patient communication and provides truly holistic care.
After a spinal cord injury (SCI), it’s natural to think about physical limitations. Yet, it’s possible to see beyond those challenges, regain fitness, and even excel in sporting activities.
Layth Abdulla and Kris Aves are men with SCI who have used sports and exercise to stay in shape, and to motivate others with SCI to be more active and live life to the fullest.
Layth Abdulla: finding new ways to be athletic
In 2016, Layth had a bicycle accident that left him paralysed at age 40. As a person who has played on sports teams all his life, he didn’t let his injury stop him from being active. Not long after his recovery, he began looking into new sports to try. Today, he is an integral part of the Newcastle (UK) Wheelchair Rugby League, and enjoys the high-intensity and the team camaraderie. He is also a regular visitor to Gym Possible gym, and relishes feeling strong and fit.
Layth recognises that physical activities can also be a way to connect with his wife and three young children, which is why he recently delved into water sports. “I've started canoeing and kayaking with the intention to involve my wife and the kids: they are really keen on it and they've already done it once with me,” he says. “As I become more capable and confident, the plan is to get on the water together more often.”
Layth has also toyed with the idea of training for the Paralympics, a notion he originally had as he lay recovering in his hospital bed watching the event on television. “I tried out for a team but stopped pursuing it because of the level of training involved: (the amount of effort) is the same as for non-disabled athletes,” he says. “At the time, my wife and I owned a catering business and (our kids were) ages three, five and six; the idea of being away from home and training five or six days a week was a big sacrifice that I wasn't prepared to make.”
Kris Aves: from the golf course to a mountaintop
In 2017 at age 35, Kris was left paralysed from the waist down after he was hit by a van during the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack in London. He was a member of the Metropolitan Police at the time, and has always been committed to physical fitness. He’s also had a lifelong passion for golf.
After his injury, Kris was determined to return to his favorite hobby. With support from his fellow golfers and his ParaGolfer – an all-terrain wheelchair that raises him into a standing position so he can swing his club – Kris continues not only to play, but to excel at the sport. In the spring of 2022, Kris participated in a competition between disabled golfers from Europe and a team from the United States. Dubbed “The Cairns Cup,” the premier event was held at the Shire London Golf Club.
Kris was named vice-captain of the European team. Although Team USA won the inaugural event, he appreciated the opportunity to participate in an elite golfing competition. “Thinking back to when I was in hospital and I never thought I would be able to swing a golf club again – to now representing Europe in a major disability golf competition is just a dream,” says Kris. “Not only is it a great honor, but it’s an amazing opportunity to show people with different disabilities and different golf abilities what can be achieved.”1
His inspiring story doesn’t stop there. Kris also recently participated in a special event to climb Mount Snowdon, the second highest point in the UK, in an adaptive wheelchair. His motivations for taking on the “Snowdon Challenge” were to increase awareness of what disabled people can accomplish and to raise funds for Back Up , a UK-based support organisation for those with SCI.
Before the event, Kris discussed his thoughts about climbing Mount Snowdon. “The biggest challenge is in my head — that question of can I get further? But I’m just going to approach it milestone by milestone,” he said. “I want to spread the message that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! When things get in your way, you can’t let them stop you.”2
In September of 2022, Kris successfully climbed Mount Snowdon, surrounded by a team of supporters, some of them close friends. Like his high-level performance on the golf course, Kris again showed what athletic feats can be accomplished after SCI.
So, what’s next for Kris? "I want to do scuba diving, and this one sounds crazy but I'd love to go down in a cage to see the great white sharks,” he says. “If the chance came my way, I don't think I'd say no."3
1 Source: Kris Aves - Disabled Golfer | The Cairns Cup | The Social Golfer
2 Source: Kris Aves to climb Mount Snowdon using an adaptive wheelchair in aid of Back Up - London TV (london-tv.co.uk)
3 Source: Police officer paralysed in terrorist attack who was told he'd never walk again let out 'crying howl' when he wiggled his toes in hospital - MyLondon
Kris and Layth received compensation from Hollister Incorporated for their contributions to this article.
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