Armed with an invincible attitude, nothing could stop Stuart Dunne. At 17 he was halfway through his A-levels with big plans to join the airforce and fly tornado jets.
It was July 1985. Stuart had only had his driver’s license for two months, but was always one for pushing boundaries. But when he decided to, in his own words, try and become the fastest teenager driving a car, he couldn’t have predicted what would ensue.
The car rolled several times and Stuart broke his neck at the C6/7 vertebrae.
His memories of the accident aftermath are a little sketchy – especially considering he was in a drug induced coma for at least a couple of weeks
“Waking up and thinking, ‘hmm, life looks different from this lying down position’.”
Stuart then spent essentially the next five to six months in a specialist spinal injury facility, rehabilitating for life in a wheelchair, learning how to get around issues of mobility, especially regarding his upper torso. He managed to retain a little bit of function in his left hand, and a tiny flicker in the little finger of his right, but not much else. His arms though, maintained function and are still strong enough to lift his own body weight.
Post-injury, one of the things Stuart found most frustrating was seeing fellow wheelchair users who had more mobility and function than him. But it was something he learnt to cope with. With no else to blame for his accident, he was well aware of the fact this new life he was leading was something he’d done to himself.
“It’s fairly crazy to say and realise this; I instantly got the deal, I instantly knew I wasn’t going to be running around, jumping, I wasn’t going to be doing those things I did as a stupid teenager.”
So he got on with it.
“Making the realisation that tomorrow is another day, the only way to make it a nicer day is to actually make it better yourself.”
One such example of making the days better was when, during his time in rehab, Stuart would tie a couple of ropes to the wheelchair of a paraplegic, who would then wheel them both to the pub.
”I couldn’t push down there myself, but the two mile trek to the local pub was pretty easy once strapped up to the back of a para.Stuart DunneMobility Master
Returning to the real world posed its own challenges. His school was a three floor building that had not been adapted for a wheelchair, so he was unable to return for his A-Levels.
“I was in limbo land, but my main thought was where am I going to go?”
Stuart also realised that his goal of joining the RAF was now never going to happen.
Making good friends, like Alex from Handiflight, was really important to Stuart from the start, because it showed him what a fantastic life was out there waiting for him.
“Just because life is not exactly the same as it was, doesn’t mean it’s over. I’ve had a fantastic life, 34 years of sitting down.”
A good career would give him steps on the ladder, and help him to deal with whatever the future had in store. He dabbled with a few different courses and studies, until he landed in accountancy.
“It was the right option, it was a reasonably well paid career and had opportunities to go to higher financial levels.”
Then Stuart got lucky. A friend approached him and said, ‘let’s make some wheelchairs’. With wheelchairs at the time costing 2000 pounds or more, Stuart was convinced he could make and sell one for cheaper.
He teamed up with a salesman and an engineer friend and together they pieced together a company, selling their wheelchair for 900 pounds.
“It was great because it suddenly boomed, just over 150 chairs in the first year, we made just short of 100,000 pounds in turnover.”
So, in 1989, Cyclone Mobility was born. With not a great deal of choice in terms of adaptive equipment at the time, Stuart started to look further afield at what gear people in wheelchairs could use that not only would provide mobility but could help them meet their rehabilitation and fitness goals.
The company will be 30 years old this November and manufactures locally in the UK. For Stuart, this was the foundation of a positive future, which all started in the back room of his family home.
”You know, Apple Mac started in the garage – all things start at the seedling that goes boom.Stuart DunneMobility Master
The market has changed and grown since the 80s, says Stuart. The main contributor to this was Ludwig Guttman – who was the pioneer in making paralysed people become recognised as ‘partially paralysed first and taxpayers second’.
“He instantly said get them out of the coffins, and get them rehabilitating, playing sport and working.”
Thus started an industrial revolution for the wheelchair-using community – the empowerment of disability.
“All of a sudden people started to realise disabled people didn’t want to sit around and do nothing, they were just forced to because they had no other choices at the time.”
Mobility was drastically altered, with the weight of wheelchairs changing from 56 pounds to just six or seven kilograms, hand controls made for cars, as well as better designed vehicle interiors that could allow for a wheelchair user and passengers.
Stuart is excited for the future, especially with electric assistive technology. There are now wheelchair attachments that can increase navigation, or change the speed of a chair.
In spite of this though, the UK seems to be massively poor in terms of funding for equipment. There are elements of assistance, for either power or manual wheelchairs, but this varies depending on which of the 152 possible authorities dishes it out – it could be anywhere from 300 to 3500 pounds.
One benefit though, comes for wheelchair users who are working, provided the equipment needed provides the extra benefit to put a wheelchair user on the same level as their able bodied peers.
The plus side of this says Stuart, is that it pushes more disabled people into working mode and into being an active part of society.
There are also a number of charities and philanthropists out there too, looking to change lives.
The owner of a busy business, Stuart works about 60 to 80 hours a week, and while there have been elements of physical injury that impact his ability to work he has defied the odds.
”I was told 30 years ago, I would never be able to work a full time job.Stuart DunneMobility Master
The majority of his role has been in the logistics, organising, and growing of the business.
Going back a few years, Stuart was a wheelchair rugby player for Great Britain, which he enjoyed immensely for the fitness and social aspects.
“It was fun before the politics came into it – it was the early days where we played in everyday chairs. We travelled to Canada, the US and Europe.”
Most of all Stuart loved being able to mix with people on a similar level to himself, rather than having to continually compare himself to able bodies. Besides, he became one of the best in the country at his sport. His advice to others would be prove you can do something and excel at it at your own personal level.
“You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it – you just do it differently from a walker.”
As well as it being Cyclone Mobility’s birthday this year, Stuart will also celebrate 20 years with his wife, has now joined in him the business.
“We are such a good team, aside from the occasional argument.”
They have kept their relationship going by not slipping into the roles of patient and carer. Stuart is lucky he can deal with the medical side of his injury and his day to day routine by himself.
The fact is, Stuart is continually pushing his body just a little bit further – if he stops to relax he’ll be a sleep in 10 seconds flat.
For those wanting to know more, Stuart encourages people to visit https://www.cyclonemobility.com
“That’s essentially the gate to seeing what we do, we’re not double glazing sales people, we will sell the right equipment to the right people.”
Cyclone Mobility are also happy to come out and demo their products to people who are interested so they can get a feel for the equipment.
His final words of wisdom are this:
“The difficult takes a while; the impossible takes a little bit longer.”
If you’d rather listen than read…
Listen to the Podcast with Stuart Dunne now.