Man paralysed as a teen has the most inspiring outlook 30 years on

Steven Webb’s life changed dramatically the moment a diving accident paralysed him from the neck down – but he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Father-of-one and Truro city councillor Steven says he was a typical “Jack the Lad” teen until a horrific accident changed his life forever in 1991.

An 18-year-old Steven walked into a Truro swimming pool with his friends one day and never walked out.

Jumping off the wall into the swimming pool at Truro School was something he had done countless times before and had never thought could hurt him.

He jumped into the deep end – with a full pool below him – but on this occasion hit the ground, broke his neck and was left paralysed forever.

Now the 47-year-old is sharing the remarkable story of how, despite almost 30 years of paralysis, he would not go back and change what happened to him given the chance.

Describing the accident almost 30 years later, Steven says jumping into the water was almost a rite of passage, he said it was “just something we all do”.

“We all jump into the water and especially in Cornwall here in the summer we quite often hear about spinal injuries on the beaches. Still today.

“Most spinal injuries come from diving and at least every year in Cornwall you see two or three people who end up breaking their necks diving off rocks into the sea.”

For the first few months after his incident Steven was in intensive care with a tracheotomy and couldn’t speak for months. He also wasn’t initially told the extent of his injuries.

In hospital in Salisbury in 1991 where he first discovered he might never walk again

“When people were visiting me in (the former) City Hospital, Truro, I had a feeling that it was really serious because I was seeing people that I hadn’t seen for a long time and I kept thinking ‘I will be fine’ and ‘I will be playing football in a few weeks’.

“But in the back of my mind I knew it was serious. I didn’t know I was going to be in a wheelchair forever, but I knew it was serious.

“It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that my consultant came over and I knew it was something more than a routine round in the morning. They couldn’t say never, but they said I had really damaged my spinal cord and there was a high chance I would probably never walk again.”

He added: “Being a very active, independent, positive person, I do not let my disability stop me from living life. I have 24-hour care because I suffer from a condition called autonomic dysreflexia. 

“Essentially, if anything causes pain or goes wrong below my chest it spikes my blood pressure dangerously high, which needs to be attended to within 10 to 20 minutes. It is classed as a medical emergency as, if let go for much longer than that, it can cause a stroke, or even worse.

“I have lived with this for many years, and with my positive outlook and my amazing carers and support I really do enjoy my life.”

He says it is undeniable that there are challenging days as a paralysed man but his disability had never stopped him living – he has always pursued what brings him joy, had intimate relationships and was blessed with raising his stepdaughter Kember Webb, now 23, – who he calls his own – after meeting her mother when she was just four years old.

“It’s one of those things that sounds terrible when it is written down, but when you are actually living in it, it almost doesn’t seem as bad because you have no choice but to just get on with it.

Steven with his daughter, Kember Webb, when she was a child

“The alternative is living everyday as ‘this is terrible’ and ‘this is not the way I wanted to live’, which is true. I didn’t want to live this way, and I would have never chose it.

“I didn’t choose to jump into the water that day and create the biggest challenge of my life. I’m not that brave, but to me, it’s much easier to see what you can do with your life.

“The thing that helps me think positively is that I don’t know that the alternative would have been better. I don’t know that my life having not broke my neck, would have turned out to be some kind of utopian wonderful adult life that I would have enjoyed.

“It might have been terrible and could have been worse so I don’t look at it like I got the raw end of the deal.”

Steven says he is grateful to have been able to experience many of those ordinary joys of life before the accident, like walking and intimacy with feeling, before they were taken from him.

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“I don’t know what it would have been like to never have known but from a perspective of ‘I did walk and I did experience all these things’, I wish I had appreciated it a little more at the time,” he said. “However, I don’t wake up every day and live in this world of appreciating every little thing I have now. It is human nature to get on with life.

“I do have a really positive outlook and I do love my life, I love the experience of being alive and it’s the greatest experience you can have.

“That being said, life does suck sometimes and being paralysed is difficult sometimes. Sometimes I do get frustrated.

“When I drop things and cannot pick them up. When I cannot do the able-bodied things that I see other people do, but how long do I stay with that mindset?

Steven embarked on the trip from John O’ Groats to Land’s End in 2005 but had to cut it short when he broke his shoulder
(Image: Steven Webb)

“We long for a comfortable life but the problem is the comfortable life doesn’t give us a real life experience. That can only come from when things are thrown into turmoil.

“In that comfortable life we won’t make the decision to move on from a job, the decision to sell up and move, or other things.

“But when I ended up single at 40 and hit my rock bottom, or when my chair broke down and I was bawling my eyes out in town one day… it’s moments like that where you are forced into making changes that are the real gifts.

“I would like to get to the end of my life and know that I played both sides correctly. So many people stick to comfort and think they missed out on what life could have been and I feel as if I am living the most incredible life because I realise what it means to be alive.”

Despite all the challenges that have come his way, Steven says quite often he is asked whether he would go back and change what happened should he be given the opportunity, to which the answer is always no.

“To want this moment to be different, to me, that is where all the suffering is,” he adds. “The reality is, to me, right now, that I am sat here in a wheelchair and no amount of willpower is going to change the current situation. So to spend time dreaming of a different now and a different future – don’t, live in the now and keep your eye on the goal.”

Steven Webb is currently without a functioning electric wheelchair which is his “lifeline”. He needs £10,500 to fund a new custom electric wheelchair which will allow the return of his independance.

He has currently raised almost £7,000 of his target. You can donate to help him reach his goal here.

Cornwall Live