Inspirational Women Of The Year: The woman who refused to accept she was paralysed and is dedicated to raising funds on spinal research
22:44 GMT, 8 October 2012
Do you know an inspirational woman
Now is your chance to have them recognised by nominating them for the Daily Mail’s sixth Inspirational Women of the Year Awards, in association with Sanctuary Spa and Wellbeing of Women.
Here, TESSA CUNNINGHAM talks to our latest nominee.
Nothing on earth is going to stop Claire Lomas leading life to the full. In the past two years she’s got married, had a baby and completed the London Marathon, raising £204,000 for Spinal Research. Next April, she’s planning to cycle from Paris to London to raise yet more funds.
A whirlwind of achievements by anyone’s standards. But Claire, 32, has done all three despite being paralysed from the chest down. Millions of TV viewers all over the world saw Claire burst into tears when, wearing her specially adapted bionic suit, she reached the finishing line of the London Marathon in May — 16 long days after starting the race.
Tearful: Claire finishes the London Marathon. She wore a specially adapted bionic suit
Celebrities, as well as TV presenters, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan, cheered her along the way. But most touching of all, her daughter, Maisie, 15 months, toddled over to greet her mum. ‘Maisie and I learnt to walk at the same time,’ says Claire, from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.
Claire’s life changed in a heartbeat in May 2007. A chiropractor with a passion for horses, she was competing in horse trials in Nottinghamshire when her horse clipped a tree. Claire crashed to the ground, breaking her back and puncturing a lung.
‘I knew instantly what I had done,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t get up and I was in excruciating pain.’
Claire was airlifted to the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, where she had emergency surgery. Doctors broke the news that although she had full sensation and movement in her arms, it was highly unlikely she would ever walk again. Her spinal cord was so badly damaged it might as well have been severed and she was paralysed from the chest down. Dozy on painkillers, Claire mumbled: ‘They don’t know who they are dealing with.’
Claire says now: ‘Of course I knew I was never going to jump out of bed and be cured, but I was young and fit and I was damned if I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.’
After ten days Claire was moved to the spinal unit at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, where she was meant to spend the next six months. She discharged herself after eight weeks.
‘Although the care was brilliant, I was bored,’ she says. ‘I was desperate to get home and start physiotherapy. Being a chiropractor, I knew it was important to get my legs mobilised if I ever wanted to use them again. But the doctors didn’t see the point. They just kept telling me: “Your legs are useless.” ’
Claire found adapting tough, and her relationship — already faltering before the accident — broke up under the strain.
‘Ten months after the accident, I ended it. My boyfriend didn’t want to spend the rest of his life with someone in a wheelchair and who can blame him But I was scared to death. I wondered who would want me. Having children had always been the most important thing in my life, but I couldn’t see it ever happening.’
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The turning point came 11 months later, when friends, including Lissa Green, 23, the daughter of equestrian Olympian Lucinda, dragged Claire out for the night.
‘We ended up in a nightclub in Leicester,’ says Claire. ‘I’d been so scared of being seen in my wheelchair, but everyone was so accepting. At one point, Lissa leapt into my wheelchair and whizzed over to the bar. She came back with free drinks for us all. “I tell you what, Claire. You’ll never go thirsty in this thing!” she joked.
‘The club was stacked with young lads and they couldn’t have been nicer.’
Claire’s experience gave her the confidence to start internet dating. She explained on her profile that an accident meant she couldn’t walk.
Claire found adapting to her new life tough but was determined to face any challenge; with her husband Dan on their wedding day in 2010
Her first date, in May 2008, was with Dan Spincer, 37, an agricultural researcher. ‘I was terrified it would go wrong. But when we met I felt instantly comfortable. It was like Dan didn’t see the wheelchair.’
Dan, now training to be a teacher, proposed 11 months later and they married in July 2010. To her intense joy, Claire was already pregnant with Maisie. ‘I didn’t know whether I could conceive — not because of the accident but because, aged 13, I’d had an ovary removed because of a cyst,’ says Claire. ‘Getting pregnant so easily and quickly was fantastic.’
Maisie was born by Caesarean section on February 17, 2011. ‘The moment I held her was just amazing — to think this baby had come from my shattered body.’
Maisie’s birth spurred Claire to push her body even harder. She had read about a bionic suit, which enables those with lower limb paralysis to stand and walk — it consists of an aluminium frame (weighing 20kg) that runs from the feet to waist height, holding the body rigid.
It’s connected by straps to the right and left legs — the wearer operates it by tilting their balance to indicate they want to take a step. Sensors detect this minute movement and translate it into steps, lifting the wearer’s legs.
The machine, the ReWalk, costs £43,000 and Claire became the first person in the UK to have one, paying for it with help from a £10,000 donation from the charitable trust of quadriplegic former rugby player Matt Hampson.
The first time she used it, in January this year, was ‘very exciting — I could walk,’ she recalls. But it requires huge effort.
‘At times I really wondered if it was possible to do the Marathon,’ says Claire. ‘The furthest I walked in it before that was a mile and that was a killer.’
But having achieved one extraordinary ambition, Claire is training for an even more arduous challenge — cycling from London to Paris to raise funds for Spinal Research and the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation.
‘I love a challenge and I’m not frightened of hard work — and we need to find a cure for spinal injuries.’