“I want to encourage people to stay active.“

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At the young age of 22 Filipe Nascimento from Portugal suffered a severe accident which turned his life upside down. Now 17 years later, Filipe is settled and wants to motivate others who suffer with a spinal cord injury to be positive.

Filipe, you were a true sportsman before your accident…
Taking part in sports acted as daily escape for me, it helped to release the stress from my studies. I live in Faro in a small town in the Algarve, South of Portugal, where the conditions are brilliant for a variety of different sports. Watersports was my passion, but I also really enjoyed riding my dirt bike up in the hills with my friends and riding a motorbike along the winding lanes.

When did your accident happen?
It happened the day before my 23rd birthday where I participated in a regional off road motorbike competition. It was a very hot day and the track was dry and dusty. During my race as I approached one of the corners, I lost control of my bike and slid off the track into a tree.

What happened next?
I had severe pain in my head, I had broken a collarbone, some ribs and punctured a lung. The worst part was the damage I had incurred to my spinal column at level T5-T6. During the first three weeks after the accident I suffered from memory loss and found it difficult to retain much information at all. Just 9% of all spinal cord injuries happen during sports, but I was part of that small number.
Luckily, I have a large group of friends who helped me to remember the feeling of happiness. They were always there to help me with whatever I needed and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

How did your life change after your accident?
Everything changed, at least at the beginning. When we leave home in the morning we assume that we’ll come back in the same way that we left. I previously lived in a third floor apartment with no elevator so I had to move to another house, had to change car to cater for my needs and learn to live with a limited amount of mobility.
Initially, dealing with personal issues wasn’t the problem; when you are living with a spinal cord injury you manage to overcome these. The hardest part was going out in public, people are very often not prepared for the "arrival" of a wheel chair.  

How is your life now?
I have finished my studies in Mechanical Engineering and opened a specialised laboratory. Just recently I have also created my very own website, Trip Accessible. On a day to day basis I go to work and go out in the evenings to socialise with friends. The only difference is that I do all of this in a wheel chair, making the simple things in life more difficult.

Do you do any sports post-accident?
Now days with a heavy workload I have little time to practice sports. For me, the hand bike is the most effective way of keeping in good shape. In the summer months, I enjoy paddling on my 2 seated kayak, scuba-diving and making the most of living close to the beach. Thanks to a specially designed wheel chair I am still the first Portuguese disabled pilot with a certified Free Flight license to practice Paragliding.

Tell us more about your website Trip Accessible…
Trip Accessible is aimed at helping disabled people when travelling, highlighting where best to stay, with close transportation services and near areas of interest. Finding venues which cater for wheelchair access is not easy at all. People with limited mobility are normally afraid to travel as they don’t know what to expect upon arrival in a foreign country.
These particular reasons took me to promote and offer a complete information service for those travelling to the Algarve, all relevant for the client with conditioned mobility or those using a wheelchair.

What barriers do paralyzed people face?
Paralysed people when travelling usually have the assistance of a stroller, walking stick or manual or electric wheel chair. The usage of these particular items, requires special conditions, also because of their size and the space required to use them.
Imagine booking a hotel room that has a bed you cannot get on to or a bathroom that doesn’t have enough space to enter. During the day for example, should you wish to go to the beach, it's senseless to choose a particular beach if they don’t have the required services to assist the disabled. These factors can be terribly frustrating.

What´s your favorite destination?
If I didn’t live in the Algarve it would still be my favorite destination. We have the ocean, great weather and miles of natural beauty. It is a peaceful and welcoming country.

Looking at the future. What does it look like for you?
Even now, it is difficult to find destinations and activities that are appropriate to put on my website. Luckily, accessibility is being considered a lot more and there are many people getting involved to improve this both in private spaces and in public. I believe this will progress quickly and tourism dramatically grow. I want to motivate people by showing them that people with disabilities can do the same things as others, it is only the locations that must be prepared to accommodate them. Personally, I live alone at the moment but close to my family. When I find the right partner I hope to make a family.

What does Wings for Life mean to you?
Wings for life brings me hope, hope that spinal cord injuries will someday be curable and just a temporary injury, not for life as it is now. It´s great to see an organisation that has so many dedicated people involved in finding a solution. Each time I watch the Wings for Life World Run, seeing thousands of people participating, it seems as though the cure is getting closer and closer to being found.

Support Wings for Life and help us in finding a cure for spinal cord injury. 100% of all donations will go towards cutting edge spinal cord research projects.