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Young Dancer Issues Warning After Freak Swimming Accident Leaves Him Paralyzed From The Chest Down

Young Dancer Issues Warning After Freak Swimming Accident Leaves Him Paralyzed From The Chest Down
Alex and Sophie met while studying performing arts (PA Real Life/Collect)

A 21-year-old dancer who was left paralyzed from the chest down after a swimming accident has told of his determination to walk down the aisle to marry his fiancée.

Alex Collins was celebrating his wife-to-be Sophie Howse's 23rd birthday on June 16 with a barbecue and game of frisbee in his hometown, Cambridge, when his life changed in an instant.

When the flying disc landed in the River Cam, he dove in head-first to retrieve it and broke his neck.

Sophie and Alex (PA Real Life/Collect)

Despite emergency surgery at nearby Addenbrooke's Hospital, he has been left paralyzed from the chest down.

With a long recovery period ahead of him, he has been told there is no guarantee his mobility will improve, but he has vowed not to give up on his dream of walking down the aisle to marry fellow dancer Sophie.

“I hope I can highlight the importance of thinking before swimming," he said.

Sophie and Alex dancing together (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I'm not going to tell everybody to stop wild swimming – it's a marvelous way to calm down in the warmer months – but please think before diving right in, especially if you don't know the depth," he said.

“Right now, I can only move my head, neck and part of my arms. Doctors have told me it will be two years before we know how well my body will recover."

“Until I'm told otherwise, for me that means getting back to full health – the alternative just isn't an option."

Alex is excited to marry his best friend.

“Sophie and I have made a pact that we won't get married until we can both stand at the altar, so right now that's the ultimate goal for both of us," he said.

Brought together by their shared passion, Alex and Sophie met in September 2016, when they enrolled on the same three-year diploma course in professional dance at Bodywork Company, Cambridge.

Although he was instantly taken by her, he did not pluck up the courage to speak to her until he asked her to be his partner for a pas de deux, a ballet duet.

Sophie and Alex dancing together (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I saw her as one of the cool kids at first and was too intimidated to ask her out," he laughed.

“Eventually I decided to use the so-called Strictly Come Dancing curse to my advantage – figuring that dance partners always end up falling for each other – and asked her to be mine."

After Sophie happily accepted Alex's offer, the couple began rehearsing together for three to six hours per week.

Sophie has promised to stay by Alex's side throughout his recovery (PA Real Life/Collect)

And it was clear there was a spark between them, with the pair becoming an official couple in January 2018.

“We got to know each other really well. We must have laughed more than we danced. We had a real connection," Alex continued.

In March 2018, the pair made their stage debut together at London's MOVE IT festival, a three-day dance event held at the Excel convention centre, performing their pas de duex in front of thousands.

“That was a real highlight of the year for us," he added.

Their relationship going from strength to strength, they moved in together in Cambridge in September 2018, at the start of their final year.

In April 2019, after landing a job as a performer on a Mediterranean cruise ship, Alex finished his studies early before flying out to Venice, Italy.

Sophie and Alex at their graduation (PA Real Life/Collect)

Sophie had not expected to see him again until the end of August but he secretly flew home to surprise her at her graduation in July.

“I'd been expected to miss our graduation, but I flew back from Italy without Sophie knowing," he said.

“I jumped out of a box on stage during a performance."

Sophie and Alex at their graduation (PA Real Life/Collect)

“One of the members of staff at the college helped orchestrate it over a few text messages," he said.

“I already knew the show from past rehearsals – all I had to do on the day was hide in the box, then jump out. It was easy to make it happen. Sophie looked utterly stunned, then broke down in tears."

The pair made the most of their time together before their graduation ball the following day, with Alex sneaking off into town for an extra special purchase.

“We barely had 24 hours together, so Sophie wasn't best pleased when I told her I had to run an errand on my own," he said.

“She kept asking what it was, so in the end I told her it was a surprise."

Alex proposing to Sophie (PA Real Life/Collect)

“The next day at the ball, just before the fireworks went off, I asked her to marry me. It was a pretty special moment," he continued.

The following morning, Alex flew to Malta to re-board the cruise ship before reuniting with Sophie for good back in the UK at the end of August.

For the rest of 2019, the couple took on several performance jobs, including a month-long stint in a production of Cinderella and various roles at the Potters Theatre Company Cambridge.

Alex and Sophie at their graduation ball (PA Real Life/Collect)

Planning to spend a year traveling the world while working on cruise ships together, they were excited to get their life started.

“We had barely graduated and had our sights set on so much," Alex said.

But in June this year, life changed forever for the young couple.

For Sophie's birthday on June 15, Alex made a makeshift cinema in their back garden using a projector and some fabric.

The following day, the pair had a socially-distanced barbecue in a meadow next to the River Cam with some friends.

“We had some takeaway beer and someone suggested playing frisbee," he said.

Alex and Sophie (PA Real Life/Collect)

“Not long into the game, the frisbee landed in the water. I thought to myself, 'What's the best way to get it? A heroic dive of course,'" he continued.

“So, I ran up to the river and dived right in. The next thing I knew I was face down in the water and unable to move. My head was full of white noise."

“I manage to flap my head up and down and my friend realized something wasn't right but had no idea I'd broken my neck."

Alex and Sophie at their graduation (PA Real Life/Collect)

Leaping into action, Alex's friend, along with a passer-by who had seen the drama unfold, raced to the river and pulled him out of the water.

“It all gets hazy from there. I remember being surrounded by paramedics and Sophie being by my side in the ambulance," he said.

“Bless Sophie, she's not the best in an emergency, and I know she had a lot of sleepless nights after the ordeal. But it's a testament to her, that she stayed by my side."

Alex was raced to Addenbrooke's Hospital, where a CT and MRI scan revealed that he had broken the C5 vertebra in his neck.

Less than 12 hours later, he was on the operating table, having the damaged vertebra replaced with part of his right hip bone, which was then fused to three other vertebrae with a metal plate.

Alex and Sophie met while studying performing arts (PA Real Life/Collect)

“After I came round, doctors told me that they had done their best to stabilize my spine and take pressure off my spinal cord," he explained.

“They could see how much damage had been done from the break and said it would be a waiting game to see how much I recover. I didn't know how to deal with it, so instead focused on making sure Sophie was better."

Alex and Sophie (PA Real Life/Collect)

“She was utterly devastated and just couldn't understand how it happened," he said.

“For the first couple of days she could hardly speak. From the very first conversation I told her if she wanted to move on, I would understand, but she said, 'Don't be ridiculous, I'm in this for the long run.'"

It the beginning of August, after 18 days at Addenbrooke's recovering from surgery, Alex was transferred to Buckinghamshire's Stoke Mandeville Hospital, one of the largest specialist spinal injury units in the world, and the birthplace of the Paralympic Games.

“I have every type of therapy you could hope for here," he said. “Intensive therapy, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy – you name it," he said.

“Sophie's allowed to see me for three hours, once a week – that's always the highlight of the week that I look forward to."

Alex and Sophie backstage (PA Real Life/Collect)

Alex has been relearning basic tasks such as brushing his teeth, shaving and maneuvering his wheelchair.

“Basically, I can groom myself, which I'm sure Sophie is very pleased about," he continued.

“I can feel sensation in my feet, the back of my legs and chest – I just can't move them."

“I like to think of the rest of my body as dormant, rather than paralyzed," he said.

Expected to remain at Stoke Mandeville until December, at the earliest, Alex has vowed to stay positive.

“When I tell people I'll be in here until Christmas, they expect me to be upset or frustrated. But the way I look at it, I'm in one of the most advanced rehabilitation units in the country – I'll happily stay here as long as possible," he continued.

Equally determined to aid Alex's recovery, Sophie has set up a GoFundMe page which aims to raise $64,000 to cover the costs of his post-hospital care, including adaptations to their home, private physiotherapy sessions and specialist equipment.

“We'd love to be able to get a FES bike. They help people with little or no leg function to exercise their muscles, stimulate circulation and strengthen their bones," he said.

Alex and Sophie performing (PA Real Life/Collect)

“That's the biggest cost at the moment, at roughly £11,000, but there's so much other stuff we have to consider down the line, too," he continued.

One of the main focal points for getting Alex through his recovery is his wedding.

Although the couple have not set a date, they hope to tie the knot in 2022.

Alex and Sophie (PA Real Life/Collect)

He also remains hopeful that he will one day be able to dance on stage with Sophie again.

“Never say never. I don't want to dampen any belief in myself at this point. I have to keep going, there's no other choice. Performing is my one true passion," he said.

And Sophie is committed to helping her fiancé every step of the way.

“The GoFundMe is so important to me because Alex deserves every opportunity to gain as much of his life back as possible," Sophie said.

“It's so important to me that we don't let money be an influencing factor in how much of a recovery Alex makes."

Alex and Sophie (PA Real Life/Collect)

“To him this is his whole life, but to others it's missing a couple of their weekly coffees to help out someone incredible," she said.

To donate to Alex's GoFundMe page, visit