In 2008 Paul Stewart was sent plummeting 200ft off a cliff by an avalanche that left him paralysed from the waist down. Doctors told him that he would never walk again. This week, after intense training and determination, Paul commenced his very own IronSpine challenge; an IronMan triathlon culminating in a climb of the cliff that broke him.
A keen sportsman, no one could have predicted the terrible accident in December 2008 that would change Paul’s life forever. At the age of 27 Paul was paralysed from the waist down and told by doctors that he would never walk again. Such was his determination to get ‘back on his feet’ that he is now, despite being paralysed and with no feeling below the knee, able to walk with the aid of two walking sticks and leg braces.
Just one year ago Paul had walked no further than a mile, but after months of rehabilitation and working tirelessly on his fitness he is now ready to attempt a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle a 26.2 mile walk and 1 cliff-face climb. The challenge starts today with the swim stage in the Stoke Mandeville Stadium. The next seven days will then be spent cycling on a trike through Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Surrey on his way to London. Days 8-11 will see him walk the streets of London all the way to City airport where he will be catching his flight to La Plagne. This will be the first time that Paul has returned to the scene of his accident that changed his life five years ago and it will be a poignant end to his two-week long journey testing his mental and emotional strength.
Jayne Wedge, a specialist in neuro-rehabilitation has described Paul as a medical marvel. “It is only because of Paul’s determination that he has come so far. By all rights he should not be able to walk at all. But since the accident he has committed himself to defying the prognosis. Through hard work, tenacity and stubbornness he is about to undertake a challenge that should be medically impossible.”
Aside from this endeavor Paul has learnt to sit-ski and also plays wheelchair tennis for Team GB. Over the years Paul has earned the respect and admiration of people far and wide and celebrities in their plenty will be turning up to support Paul and accompany him during his journey. Clare Balding, AP McCoy, David Coulthard, George North and Sir Alex Ferguson have all publicly expressed their support of Paul and many others have described him as an inspiration. In addition he has received public messages of support from David Cameron and Zara Phillips.
Mr Cameron wrote: “I wish you all the very best as you make your final preparations for the IronSpine Challenge this summer. Your hard work and dedication are phenomenal, and it is fantastic that you are raising so much awareness and sponsorship for research into spinal cord injury.”
Zara Phillips added: “What an incredible endeavour! Paul’s story is inspirational enough; the fact he is now taking on this challenge defies belief. I am behind him all the way and look forward to hearing he is celebrating victory, as I am sure he will be, on the completion of his amazing journey in August.”
The IronSpine Challenge will raise money for two charities helping those with spinal cord injuries, Spinal Research and Wings for Life. For more information and to donate please go to www.ironspinechallenge.com.
Find and engage with Paul, and his challenge: @IronSpinePaul #IronSpine