Stories of Men

Achieving Paralympic success following a life-changing injury

Achieving Paralympic Success following a Life-changing Injury

“I used to drive the OT mental because I used to have grapes for breakfast and then chase a grape around the bowl for about three quarters of an hour and she'd be like “Please give up.” And I wouldn’t.”

Achieving Paralympic Success following a Life-changing Injury

This episode of Our Voices shares the survivor story of Alexandra, a woman who suffered a life-changing injury as a teenager and went on to become an award-winning Paralympian. Her story shows her ability not only to adjust to the circumstances of her disability, but to find a way to prosper.

Childhood memories of Jamaica

Alexandra grew up able-bodied and spent much of her childhood in Jamaica. Describing her impressions of the island, she says “The colours are very vivid, the blue of the sea versus the gold of the sun, and the green of the fields and then also the diverse mix of people on the island and the skin colours.”

A life-changing injury

In the summer of 1995, when Alexandra was 13 years old, she suffered a life-changing injury following a diving accident. She and her family and friends had decided to go to the ocean for a swim.

 “It was a really bright, sunny Sunday morning and we got to the beach and my sister and my two friends slowly walked into the water. And I, in typical fashion, instead of walking like everybody else, decided to run.”

Alexandra was extremely familiar with the beach as she had visited it since she was young. So familiar in fact that she knew exactly when there would be drop-off. She would do a little dive as soon as she reached that point. 

However, this year there had been a number of hurricanes and this had affected the depth of the water near the shore. “I basically ran into the water and dived. And the next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and I was looking at the sea floor… I tried to move, I couldn’t, I tried again to move, I couldn’t. And at that point in time, I knew what had happened.”

Unable to move after that diving accident

Despite undergoing what would have been a terrifying experience for most people, Alexandra did not panic. She drew strength from her mother’s approach to adversity.

 “My mum is a problem solver, so the minute anything goes wrong, she just goes into how do we fix it mode. And I definitely have that quality of hers.” 

So Alexandra just held her breath and waited for someone to come and assist her. Eventually her sister arrived and flipped her over. Alexandra looked at her and told her she was paralysed.

Fortunately, a nurse was present on the beach that day. So the family got Alexandra onto a boogie board and the nurse began asking her questions. Alexandra describes not being able to move any part of her body from her shoulders down. “I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t feel anything.”

An agonising rehabilitation

Three days later, Alexandra was air-lifted to Miami where she would have a series of operations. “The first time they sit you up is incredibly painful. Your body just is in complete shock because I’d been lying on my back for a week or 10 days, and it’s amazing how your body just degrades so quickly. You atrophy, everything seizes up.”

Eventually, the nature of her life-changing injury was confirmed. She was diagnosed with tetraplegia, which is paralysis in all four limbs. She would need to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

At the age of 13, this must have been devastating news to hear and yet she  was somehow able to quickly focus on her life after paralysis.

 “I kind of went into emergency problem solving mode of, okay, what’s the next step? How do we deal with the next thing? Rather than: let’s dwell on the situation because it’s out of my control.”

Adjusting to life after spinal cord injury

Adjusting to life after her spinal cord injury proved to be difficult. Alexandra spent months in hospital followed by a complicated process of rehabilitation. She had been able to regain some hand function which meant that she could feed herself. But gripping objects proved to be extremely difficult. 

“I used to drive the OT mental because I used to have grapes for breakfast and then chase a grape around the bowl for about three quarters of an hour and she’d be like “Please give up.” And I wouldn’t.”

Life after paralysis

Alexandra quickly went on to build a life beyond her injury. Before her life-changing injury, she had always had a love of sports. This would not change and, as part of her recreational therapy, she went sailing. “I really enjoyed it, because it was a very different sport. It was nice to be out on the water, it was nice to be out of your chair, just in different surroundings.” 

A unique opportunity

Initially she had no intentions of pursuing sailing beyond anything but a hobby. However, her life-changing injury coupled with her interest in sailing meant that Alexandra found herself being contacted by the Back Up Trust, a UK charity that supports people with spinal cord injuries. 

They were looking for a helm to train up. The helm needed to be a 1.0, which is the most severely disabled in the Paralympic classifications. The helm also needed to be female. Alexandra found that she was ticking all of the boxes and so she accepted the opportunity.

Becoming an award-winning Paralympian

A year later, in 2007, Alexandra had the chance to team up with Niki Birrell, an Olympic class sailor who has cerebral palsy. Together they went on to compete in 3 Olympic Games in Beijing, London and Rio. Alongside Niki, Alexandra became an award-winning Paralympian as they both became world number one for six years and won a Paralympic Bronze medal as well as 5 consecutive world titles.

A hero’s reception

Alexandra speaks particularly fondly about her experiences after becoming an award-winning Paralympian at the London Olympic Games. She noticed that for these games there had been a real shift in the Paralympics in terms of coverage and appreciation.

 “You have this double decker bus parade going through London, every bus has a different sport on board. A million people turn out across London – all you could see were people on either side of the buses. You’re there with all your teammates , people are screaming, crying. It’s literally something I will never again experience in my life.”

Continued barriers

Alexandra saw that more still needs to be done despite experiencing such euphoria to create a more equal world for disabled people outside of the Olympics. When she went to enter an underground club in central London to celebrate after her performance, they told her that she couldn’t go in due to the lack of provision for wheelchair users.

 “The earth just came fully crashing back… because of this egalitarian, beautiful kind of Olympic bubble that we’d all been existing in, suddenly the realities of being disabled again, and what that meant, came slamming straight back into me like a wave.”

Ambitions for the future

Alexandra is now working in sustainability within the sport and she is in the process of becoming head of sustainability for World sailing. Her ambitions continue to be at an all-time high.

 “A focus for me is how do we use sport as that platform for change and for good as well as intrinsically changing the industry as a whole.”

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

Experience in Industry: 3


Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights


I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

Industry experience: 3 Years


Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.


I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Stories of Men podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years


Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt



Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Stories of Men’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  





Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.


I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Stories of Men podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues regarding men that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.



Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

I’m the Editor of Stories of men. I craft compelling narratives from the stories of our fantastic guests, editing their interviews and scripting the episodes. I’m a freelance journalist and audio producer from Northern Ireland, currently based in California. I cover social issues, health and gender – with reporting in The Guardian, Vice, NPR, Cosmopolitan and many others. My focus is shining a light on the communities and initiatives that improve people’s lives. I have a background in the nonprofit space, having worked in communications for a mental health charity, as well as an education start-up. I mentor young female writers and sit on the board of an NGO that empowers women in global supply chains. 

Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live 

I am the host of Stories of Men. I help to find men that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!


Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.