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Images show everyday exercise experiences of spinal cord injured

A collection of striking images portraying experiences of people with a spinal cord injury have been unveiled today by researchers at Loughborough University.

The series of 40 photographs were taken by 15 spinal cord injured people as part of Project INSPIRED – a national research project that aimed to gain an insight into how people with a spinal cord injury experience physical activity and exercise.

The photographs capture a wide range of activities and sports from skiing and hand cycling to gardening and wheeling. But they also show some of the daily barriers faced by people with a spinal cord injury, such as blocked pavements and broken lifts.

The amateur photographers range in age from early 30s to late 60s and come from across England.

Project leader Dr Anthony Papathomas from the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport in the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS) said:

“The collection of photographs gives us a unique perspective into the physical activity experiences of people with a spinal cord injury. The camera gives people greater control and inspires them to think about how they feel about something. It’s a window into real life and it gives the kind of insight you don’t really get just speaking to someone.

“The images show that even the most active people come across obstacles, and that exercising outdoors was particularly liberating for participants.” 

The photographs complement a series of open interviews conducted with the group, which also revealed that poor access to facilities was less of barrier than people’s negative attitudes towards disability.

Dr Papathomas added: “You can have the newest, most accessible gym equipment in the world; but if the staff don’t take an interest in their disabled client base, it’s useless.

Project Inspired (Investigating Narratives and Stories to Promote and Inspire Regular Exercise in the Disabled) was supported through funding from the CocaCola Foundation.

The Reluctant Heroes photography exhibition was unveiled today at a special event at the Aspire National Training Centre in Stanmore to mark Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day. Guests from major organisations like the English Federation of Disability Sport and leading disability charities will be in attendance. The photos will also be exhibited at the International Conference for Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise at Loughborough University from 1-3 September.