Not many weeks after my life changing accident, I was reluctantly in a mobility aid shop trying to choose my own wheelchair. I had made the mistake of taking the option of having an NHS chair rather than a voucher towards a lightweight one.
The truth was, I hated all wheelchairs, so when the lady was asking me which one I liked most, the only answer I could give was ‘none’. She picked up on this, and gently said ‘Do you hate this one a little less than that one?’ which made me smile. I ordered one as fast as I could with little thought into it and left the shop swiftly as possible. I longed for my old life back.
My relationship with my wheelchair was far from great for quite a while ,in fact I am talking a few years rather than months, as it was not something I wanted in my life. It wasn’t long after receiving the NHS chair that I realised to have any sort of independence I would need a lightweight (and sadly, rather expensive) one which would enable me to be able to lift it in and out the car. Some of the savings from my abruptly ended Chiropractic career sitting in my high interest savings account were spent on this which felt pretty rubbish, but later I discovered that it was actually money well spent because without it, I could not live the life that I do.
That said, I will never ever forget the pain of waking up each morning the first few months after my spinal cord injury, my eyes would gradually open following a vivid dream which seemed to involve either the adrenaline of competing my horses, the freedom of running or the fun of dancing the night away after a few drinks with my friends, and my head would turn towards the black ugly wheelchair parked up by my bed which was a stark reminder that this journey I was on was very real and there was no escaping it.
It was a case of having to grieve for all I had lost, accept what had happened and adapt to my new life. I was determined to make the most of what I had and not stay in the depths of despair.
In contrast, I now wake up and have to pack a load into a day, so I am in that wheelchair and away- combining my career as a speaker, my rehabilitation, training for a fundraiser or taking on a challenge, being a wife and mum to two girls. If someone took my wheelchair away from me, I would be doomed!
It is not just a wheelchair to me, it is like a best friend as it comes everywhere with me; the every day routine stuff and the more exciting adventures. Never forget that over time our perspectives on different situations can change- and mine certainly has.
Eventually I had to accept that I needed a wheelchair and as I did, the hate for it gradually diminished, well except for pushing that was. I am not a lazy person but I really believed that pushing a long way in it was not only boring but tiring and just not something I wished to do. Along with that, I knew if I hit a bump in the pavement or road I could go flying, so the focus on picking out rough ground was quite irritating and I felt vulnerable which sounds weird when I go out on track days on a motorbike- but I honestly felt more likely to fall from my wheelchair than off a motorbike because almost everywhere is uneven.
It was not until more recent years I have discovered that covering miles in my wheelchair is actually fun, and I have particularly found the love for taking part in events. Using a wheelchair doesn’t even mean I can’t be alongside my friends running- it is just a brilliant inclusive feeling. I hadn’t tried this until recently and imagine that there are thousands of people who are the same with walking and running, they just haven’t tried- so why not give it a go?
I have always loved being outside alongside staying active and discovering the free-wheel attachment (this lifts the front caster wheels off the ground so bumps are not an issue) has been a game-changer for me so I can now wheel myself long distances with family and friends (walking or jogging alongside me) without the fear of falling out.
It all started because in October 2021 I took on the London Marathon in my wheelchair, and since pushing those distances I have never looked back- two or three miles used to seem a long way and now it is just down the road. The more we ‘push’ ourselves the more our boundaries expand- and that does not just apply to ‘pushing’ a wheelchair!
At the moment, I am training for the Great North Run and Great South Run, both are in the autumn. I have a wonderful team for these events and can still take a few more in my Great South Run team. It is a ten mile event in Portsmouth, and as I did it last year, I can promise you it is a brilliant weekend so just get in touch if you would like to walk, run or push as a ‘Team Claire’ member.
The Great North is a half marathon which I completed in 2016 using a robotic suit (taking five days) and I am thrilled to be back using my wheelchair along side my husband and good friend, Stu, who I have put in my spare chairs- giving them the challenge of using a wheelchair. I must admit Stu has been heading towards the ditch quite a few times and Dan is complaining of blisters after just a few miles- come on boys, let’s do this and raise money for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation. I will warn them, hills feel like mountains but ‘there ain’t no mountain high enough’
Bring it on!