Careers after spinal cord injury
Getting back to work after a spinal cord injury can be daunting. Meet Casey and Jonny who continued to pursue their careers following their injuries.
Casey Gemma, 32
Casey runs her own wellness business building strong bodies and minds through yoga and nutrition.
“Just over a year ago, while out for a bike ride with my boyfriend, I went over the handlebars of my bike and broke my back. Despite wearing a helmet, when I landed on my head I fractured my vertebrae which crushed my spinal cord leaving me a T8 complete paraplegic.
Immediately, I knew how bad the crash was. I had fallen before, but never like this. My first thought was, ‘I’m never going to ride a bike again.’ My second was, ‘I can’t teach my yoga class tonight.’
“After being airlifted to the local hospital, I remember a horrible feeling of guilt that I had let my yogis down. Then, a feeling of complete despair at the thought of never teaching yoga again. I began practising yoga as a child with my grandma, who was also a yoga teacher. She is the reason yoga holds such a special place in my heart. The thought of never sharing my practice again hit me like a brick.
I decided that I just couldn’t let my dream, or my business go. In the weeks that followed, and with the help of some very dear friends, I continued my online classes from my hospital bed, despite the interruptions of beeping hospital machines. Teaching my classes gave me strength, purpose and a small glimmer of hope that maybe I could still live a life that I love.
On returning home, I began teaching one yoga class a week and it filled me with so much joy. I could still give clear instructions and modify postures with my hands. I loved the sessions so much that I wanted to share them with other people with impaired mobility and so I introduced adapted yoga classes (in-person and online). I now teach two in-person and three online yoga sessions a week and continue to help clients nourish themselves better through nutrition consultations.
I still have big dreams for my little business; my next goals are to get back to teaching stand up paddleboard yoga and to run some fully accessible yoga retreats! My yoga teaching may look slightly different now, but the joy I get from teaching and nutrition has truly brought so much happiness
and purpose back into my life.”
To find out more about Casey’s yoga teaching go to: caseygemma.com
Jonathan Makin, 34
Jonathan owns Makin Lightin, a live event production and rental company. This year the business will celebrate its ten-year anniversary
“I’ve always been interested in theatre. When I was growing up, we’d enjoy seeing pantos and musicals as a family. I’d do the sound and lighting for shows at school. When it came to thinking about jobs after school, my dad suggested looking into courses in the technical side of the performing arts. I’d never considered it as a job – it had always just been a thing I’d enjoyed doing.
I did a BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts Production before settling into lighting. Jobs were a bit scarce – I spent a while doing part time casual work for Lancashire-based theatres like the Blackpool Grand close to where I lived.
I was 20 when I was in a car accident back in March 2008, sustaining a T4 incomplete spinal injury. I spent seven and a half months in Southport spinal unit.
I’d never lost interest in lighting and knew I couldn’t do a 9-5 office job. I didn’t want to leave the industry but looking at accessibility, I wondered how to do the job in a wheelchair. Then I came up with the idea of setting up my own lighting and sound rental business. That way I didn’t need to worry about access in venues etc because I’d just be renting kit out to people.
I bounced some ideas around with friends and then took the leap. I started out with eight moving lights, a lighting desk, a haze machine and some cable in my garage at home. Ten years later, I’m in a 3,500 sq.ft unit in Clitheroe with much, much more of everything!
I now work with a team of freelancers and we supply to theatres, the education sector as well as to big live events like the SIA Cornflower and Gunpowder Balls. We cater for all sizes, supplying to big theatres like the Palace in Manchester to Chorley Theatre which I’ve stayed involved with since college.
It’s a very physical job and obviously there are things I can’t do any more like hanging lights or going up a ladder. Now I just shout at other people to do that! We put in long hours – sometimes we’re doing 14–16-hour days – that can take their toll on the able-bodied, never mind having to push a chair around too.
Accessibility at some venues can be an issue – but I’m always surprised at the places I can get to. In theatres nowadays, all equipment usually comes on wheels so there are usually ramps and things. It’s not every venue that I can get into, but I’ve a good team around me that I trust to do things on their own.
I try not to let my disability get in the way but sometimes I must ask the guys to do things for me. I know what I can and can’t do, and it’s about adapting. That’s why it’s good being a business owner too – often it’s the case that people just want kit to hire and my unit is very accessible, with everything on one level.”
For more information on Makin Lightin visit: makinlightin.co.uk
Both these stories appeared in the Winter issue of our magazine FORWARD as part of a larger article about careers after spinal cord injury.
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