I am absolutely delighted to be part of ‘The Outdoor Guide’ team knowing first-hand the enormous benefits that both being outside and exercising can do for our mental and physical health. Soon as I saw that their mission is to make the outdoors more accessible for all, I was eager to know more about the fabulous work they do and to be invited onto the team is a huge honour.
Throughout 2022, I will be writing blogs, sharing some of my adventures and any challenges I face. I guess the best way to start would be by giving you an insight to my life- and how it changed so drastically back in 2007.
Being told I will never walk again was unimaginably devastating, but combine that with losing my career as a Chiropractor, my relationship falling apart and being unable to do the sport that I was not only passionate about but had spent years working hard to reach the highest level, you will now realise how my life was shattered from one small mistake. I was left paralysed from the chest down in a horse riding accident. A spinal cord injury affects almost everything below the injury level; bowel and bladder, sensation, blood pressure, temperature regulation and more, so it was going to be difficult to come to terms with but difficult did not mean impossible.
My hospital days seemed to drag on forever, although they were shorter than expected. I was told I would be in the spinal unit for around six months but after eight weeks I discharged myself. The care was exceptional but I wasn’t getting the amount of rehabilitation I hoped for; any hope was ‘false hope’ and positivity was ‘denial’.
With the help of the equestrian world, I managed to have a week’s intensive physio at a private centre and developed a home programme which gave me a focus and something to work on. I knew I may not regain any movement or sensation but I also knew that what I was doing would help keep me fit and healthy so it was the right decision for me.
This journey I was on was beyond challenging. I felt like every door had been slammed closed in my face and I had no idea how I was going to cope with the horrific situation I found myself in. I was only 27 years old and now disabled. I hardly sat still for a second prior to my accident- I loved being outside and active. How could I ever be happy again?
I had to persevere through some bleak times, needing to be my very strongest when I felt at my weakest. The darkest of days were interspersed with laughs shared with family and friends which kept me going, and gradually I was willing to try new activities in attempt to rebuild my life.
It was when I started to think about what was possible, rather than dwelling on all the things I had lost that my world started to improve. Only a year after my accident, I bought my husband online for just £20 (dating website) and I started to work again. Admittedly, it was a job I could have done when I was 16 and in some ways it felt like I had gone backwards in life but like a jigsaw, to get the ‘bigger picture’ you have to put all the small pieces in, and these were the first few pieces and they were essential.
Since then, I have gone on to do so many things I never expected would be possible; learning to mono-ski, becoming a mum to two daughters, walking the 2012 London Marathon taking 17 days using a robotic suit, riding motorbikes and obtaining my race licence so I can take part in track days, fundraising over £825,000 to help cure paralysis by taking on a variety of challenges, having a career as a motivational speaker, writing two books and most recently, becoming a qualified pilot.
The reason I set about fundraising was because even during my hospital days, there were many moments I felt genuinely lucky, I was surrounded by patients with neck injuries, who didn’t have use of their arms and some were even on a ventilator to breathe- many couldn’t wipe their own tears away and they relied on 24 hour care for the rest of their lives. I knew I needed to do what I could to help the ground-breaking research in spinal injury repair, so that eventually paralysis will be reversible.
As well as raising money, I love setting goals and being out of my comfort zone; after all, before my accident I spent much of my time eventing which is a sport that certainly gets the adrenaline flowing. Being paralysed does mean that 2/3 of my body doesn’t work, but I am the same person and still had many of the desires I had pre accident . Although my injury meant the premature closure of numerous chapters, it was also the start of others, and they have been so exciting.
I have not lost the love for the outdoors; no matter what the weather, I will be out there reaping the benefits- whether that is 3000 ft in the sky flying a microlight, hand-cycling along the country roads, skiing down a mountain, on a motorcycling track day or pushing my wheelchair alongside my two children.
Also, having two daughters, age 10 and 5, who are often out in the countryside- jumping in puddles, getting muddy and exploring nature- I have witnessed that nothing is better for a child’s development. The waterproof and wellies project is a fantastic initiative that provides schools with this essential outdoor gear for their pupils, encouraging them to experience what every child should. I am so proud to be part of team TOG.
Thanks for reading and I will be back soon.
Please visit claireschallenge.co.uk for more information.