An entrepreneur who sank into depression after a motorbike accident left him paralysed has gone on to design a revolutionary training machine that’s now changing the lives of wheelchair users across the globe.
Paul Cooksey, 56, a former managing director of an engineering company, suffered life-changing injuries in his accident in 2006.
But after around two and a half years of being virtually immobile, paralysed from the shoulders down, he realised he had to take action to boost his own fitness and mental health and he put his engineering skills to use, designing a trainer specially for wheelchair users.
Shortly afterwards he met fellow wheelchair user Scott Smith, a successful entrepreneur looking to expand his business portfolio. They founded Invictus Active, (http://www.invictusactive.com) and the business is now selling the Invictus Active Trainer and other disability products across the world as well as providing online wheelchair fitness sessions and much more.
Paul, from Ditton Priors in Shropshire, said: “After the accident I was in a very bad place. I had worked hard in life and I thought I was onto the next chapter in my life; instead I spent a year lying in a spinal unit bed, then 18 months at home, not being able to get out.
“It really affected my mental health; I started to drink excessively and went from being 13 stone to around 19. I couldn’t push my chair across the living room. I was feeling suicidal, because I just couldn’t cope.
“Then I realised something had to change, I could not just sit there. I realised I still had a brain, I was still the same person.”
Paul designed the initial trainer and through his contacts in the manufacturing industry managed to get the parts together to build it in his garage. He started using it every day and soon noticed a huge improvement.
“I started to move around more, I lost a lot of weight – around 84lbs – and my mental health improved dramatically,” he said. “I also started playing wheelchair tennis and that’s where I met Scott. He knew about my previous business experience and had been asking for advice. I said you need something unique to sell. I told him I had designed the trainer and asked if he wanted to see it.”
Scott, 33, from Halesowen, said he knew there was nothing else like the trainer, a lightweight, portable machine, similar to a treadmill, specifically for wheelchairs, on the market and could immediately see its potential.
A further 18 months of research and development with a number of universities followed, which allowed the two entrepreneurs to better understand the benefits the trainer offered.
The trainer has since been hailed by Paralympians and featured on TV. Regular online fitness sessions attract people from as far away as California and sales are soaring, with orders flooding in from around the world.
Scott said: “It’s giving so many wheelchair users an improved lifestyle and we are getting some brilliant feedback. One customer lost 77lbs over 18 months and someone who had been using a power chair was able to move back to a manual chair with improved upper body strength.
“Our online fitness sessions with personal trainer Ella Beaumont are really popular with people of all ages and abilities. One lad is just eight and the oldest is 78. One man even joins in weekly from California.
“Around 30 per cent of what we make we sell overseas – we export to America, Australia, Singapore, South Korea and many other places.”
Scott, who has been in a wheelchair since surgery on a spinal tumour damaged nerves when he was just 10 years old, said some trainers had been sold to gyms enabling people in wheelchairs to join in sessions like spin classes with able-bodied family and friends. He now wants to see more gyms invest in trainers and even schools, to enable children in wheelchairs to fully join in PE and fitness sessions.
“When I was a lad at school, I had to do PE playing badminton with the kid who had forgotten their kit, or who had a broken arm,” he said.
“I think kids in wheelchairs are still finding they can’t join in fully, but with these trainers schools can get wheelchair users fully involved. That inclusion is what drove me to set the business up, we don’t want people to feel left out or left behind in any way.”
Scott had been a sporty youngster before his spinal tumour was discovered and carried that on afterwards, going on to play wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis, where his path crossed with Paul’s.
Invictus Active was launched in 2015 and is now based at a unit and showroom on the Four Ashes Enterprise Centre, Latherford Close, Wolverhampton.
The original trainer has been tweaked and perfected, and now links to an app which monitors distance, speed, heart rate and so on.
It caught the attention of producers at Channel 4 who then asked if it could be featured on the Super Humans Show. Paralympic gold medalist David Weir and presenter Ade Adepitan both used the trainer.
David Weir was so impressed he went on to endorse the machine, describing it as ‘amazing’ and ‘the best roller I have used to date’. Along with fellow athletes, he now uses the trainer at his coaching centre, the Weir Archer Academy.
Scott said he had also been working with several universities on research to help improve the lives of disabled people.
He said: “Loughborough University has been looking at the importance of shoulder strength for wheelchair users. Shoulder strength is vital and the trainer can help build this. It’s great that the university’s findings validate what we are doing.
“We have also been involved with the University of Chicago, where researchers are looking at the benefits of the trainer for those with spinal cord injuries and they can really see the value in what we are doing.”
Paul, meanwhile, is enjoying his retirement with his wife Tracy, 54, and children Laurence, 29 and Jessica, 27.
“They were just teenagers when I had my accident,” he said. “It was a traumatic time for everyone. Thankfully, now it’s just a bit more normal for us all.
“It’s so rewarding to know that the trainer is helping other people in that situation keep fit and active and boost their own mental health. It’s also very satisfying to see how well Scott is managing to continue to develop the business around the trainers.”
To find out more, visit www.invictusactive.com