“Since my accident I’ve had the best days of my life.” Paralysed from the chest down in a riding accident, Claire Lomas is a truly inspirational parent.
A talented event rider, it was a freak riding accident at Osberton Horse Trials in May 2007 that changed Claire’s life. She was thrown against a tree, resulting in fractures to her neck, back and ribs as well as a punctured lung requiring a tracheotomy.
“I remember everything before the actual accident and then I just remember lying on the ground thinking ‘sh*t, this isn’t good’.
“I was operated on that night. They put titanium rods in my back and told me I was paralysed from the chest down.” But this is a woman who resolutely refuses to feel sorry for herself. Incredibly, she says, “even though my injuries were pretty bad, there were others in the Sheffield Spinal Injuries Unit in much worse shape than me.”
Against the advice of her doctors and specialists she discharged herself just eight weeks later. “They wanted me to stay in for six months but I was determined to rebuild my life and do my own physio. I set myself milestones, for example I was determined to self-catheterise”.
About 10 months after her accident she became an ambassador for Spinal Research. “I’d seen a clip of a robotic suit on the web and thought how amazing it would be to walk the London Marathon in it. I’ve always been a fan of pushing myself right outside my comfort zone!”
So she then set about the not insignificant task of raising the funds for her bionic suit. “It cost £43,000 so we had to do a huge amount of fundraising”, with activities including a calendar of naked equestrians, a fashion show and a sizeable donation from ex-rugby player Matt Hampson.
“It took ages to find the actual suit too – it’s made in Israel so I had to keep pushing for it to come to a UK rehab centre” she says.
Pillar of strength
“I’m a huge believer that you make your own luck,” says Claire with typical optimism.
That’s why, a year after her accident, she signed up for online dating and met her husband-to-be Dan Spincer. “I was low in confidence when I met him but he’s been incredible” she says.
When Dan proposed in 2009 Claire decided to celebrate her hen weekend on the ski slopes with eight able-bodied girlfriends. “It was just brilliant fun,” she says.
And when the couple married in 2010 Claire was thrilled to discover she was eight weeks pregnant with daughter Maisie.
“Despite my injuries below chest level, I was able to do the most amazing thing in the world – grow a baby with perfect nails, eyelashes and everything! I was on course for a natural birth but because she was spine to spine I had to have an emergency C-section.”
“It’s been the most incredible journey. Yes there are days when it’s hard but it’s getting easier. I think the most difficult time was around 9-10 months. Because I don’t have any core strength I found it difficult to pick her up as she got heavier.”
The London Marathon
The year following Maisie’s birth, with one bionic ReWalk suit equipped with motion sensors and onboard computers (“a really clever bit of kit”), plus over £200,000 raised for Spinal Research, Claire began the extraordinary challenge of walking the London Marathon. Supported by husband Dan who walked behind her all the way “incase I fell backwards” she crossed the finishing line 16 days later cheered on by her mum and dad, Maisie and hundreds of wellwishers.
“I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of support shown to me. It was one of the most special moments of my life.”
Not content with settling on one awe-inspiring feat, Claire set her heart on her next challenge: a 400-mile hand-cycling trip from Nottingham to London, stopping at schools, universities and workplaces to raise awareness of spinal injuries. “It was tougher than doing the marathon,” she says “but I raised £85k. At first the public speaking was my worst nightmare but I like putting pressure on myself. Funnily enough public speaking is now something I love!”
In February 2014 Claire published her first book Finding My Feet. “Originally I had a ghostwriter to write it for me but it just didn’t sound like me, so between September to November 2013 I literally put pen to paper – I didn’t want to use a laptop – I just wrote and wrote.”
“I wanted to raise as much money as I could for Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation so I decided to self-publish rather than going to a publisher. I’ve already written them a 4-figure cheque.”
“I’m still doing my fundraising and school tours. To pay the bills I earn money as a motivational speaker and I also work part-time in a family skiing firm Simply Morzine. Maisie is just gorgeous – she’s now three and spends two half days at pre-school.
I wish I’d known in the days after my accident that life would work out like this. I’m living proof that you should never give up.”
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