Paul Stewart's IronSpine Challenge
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In December 2008, Paul Stewart was involved in a terrible snowboarding accident. He was caught in an avalanche and thrown 200ft off a cliff in La Plagne, France injuring his spinal cord and leaving him paralysed from the waist down. At age just 27, doctors told him that he would never walk again.
Paul is still paralysed below the knees and around his lower trunk, however after intense rehabilitation, he can now walk with the aid of sticks and braces despite having no feeling or sensation as he takes each step.
Last year Paul decided that he wanted to set himself a serious challenge and raise funds and awareness for spinal cord injury research at the same time. “A true challenge is something you don’t know if you can do” Paul said at the time. So he developed what he aptly named the ‘IronSpine Challenge’: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle, a 26.2 mile walk and 1 cliff-face climb – taking him back to the mountain where he fell five years ago.
When Paul dreamt up the challenge, he had never walked further than a mile. Since then he has worked tirelessly on his fitness and on Tuesday 20th August 2013, following months of gruelling preparation, Paul Stewart completed his incredible IronSpine Challenge in support of two charities: Wings for Life and Spinal Research.
Paul gathered a fantastic support team of friends, family and his physiotherapists and begun the challenge at the swimming pool at Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he was treated after his injury. He cycled the next seven days on his trike through countryside and enduring hills en route to London. AP McCoy, Jeremy Kyle and the Mayor of Henley joined Paul for parts of the cycle and he found much encouragement and best wishes from the public along the way.
The walk began at the London Clinic in Marylebone where he was a patient and took him past many famous landmarks including 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Cheered on by crowds outside their offices, Paul also spent a mile walking alongside BT Sports Broadcaster Clare Balding.
During these tiring walking days, the sheer enormity of the challenge began to take its toll both mentally and physically and Paul suffered severely wounded shins and ankles. Yet he pushed on until he reached the end of the walk at London City Airport to catch his flight to France.
It was the first time Paul had returned to the scene of his accident that changed his life five years ago and arriving at La Plagne was a poignant end to his two-week long journey which tested all of his strength. He scaled the mountain he fell off supported by ropes and pullies and alongside his best friends who had been with him at the time of the avalanche.
On completing the challenge Paul said, “It was a lot tougher than I imagined it could ever be, but I took it day by day like in rehab when learning to walk. What I am most proud of is that I managed to turn a tragic event into a happy one. I have hopefully helped people and inspired a few to make life better for themselves. I would do it all over again if it would help just one person.”
Paul’s objective was to make a difference for those with debilitating spinal injuries, to tackle the perception of spinal injury and to inspire others to follow in his footsteps. He did just that. The challenge has raised over £350,000 so far for Wings for Life and Spinal Research, and this amazing amount is still growing. You can still donate here.
We would like to congratulate Paul on completing his challenge. What’s more we’d like to thank him for his incredible determination and for raising such a phenomenal amount of money for cutting-edge spinal research.