Supporter Profile - Paul Fairhurst
Paul came to us last year, telling of an incredible trek that he was planning, and that as he had suffered a spinal cord injury, he wanted to raise awareness of spinal cord injury and support us to find a cure.
In June 2011 Paul suffered a C5/6/7 spinal cord injury in a cycling accident, leaving him paralysed and with almost no sensation from the shoulders down. “From the moment I regained consciousness I held a passionate belief that I would recover. I’ve been left with excessive muscle tone and spasticity and constant neuropathic pain. But I can walk and I am fully functional and independent. Most people with this injury never walk again and many face a lifetime of serious medical complications. I know I’m very lucky, and I’m very grateful.”
Paul had a sense that his injury and recovery had set him on a new path towards something new and very exciting. In summer 2013 Paul met Paralympian Gregory Burns. Gregory had polio as a child which meant that he depends on leg braces and crutches for mobility. He harnessed it to develop his character, inner strength and creative spirit, moving on from a successful sports career to become an internationally acclaimed artist. They immediately got on well and talked about their interests in doing a challenge. The idea surfaced that they should tackle something major, and after months of planning, Paul and Gregory set off on a 35km, 5 day trek at very high altitude, in the remote, spectacularly beautiful Himalayan province of Ladakh.
It would prove to be a huge test of physical and mental strength, but they worked as a team and they did it. To quote Gandhi, Paul said that, "Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will".
Paul hoped to use the trek to raise the profile of spinal cord research and fundraise – and did just that. Johnnie Walker covered the costs of the trek and so all of the sponsorship went straight to the cause. Paul has raised over £11,000 for Wings for Life and Spinal Research (adding to the £17,000 he raised for research in 2013), and now a video of their challenge has been released which shows just what courage and determination both men showed in achieving their goal.
Paul has continued his support for Wings for Life by giving various talks to our partners and sponsors, raising awareness and promoting the Wings for Life World Run. He always speaks from the heart, full of emotion and spirit, telling his audience about his injury, his challenges, his dreams and his connection to Wings for Life. Paul says: "I first heard of Wings for Life two years ago ahead of the first World Run. I'm hugely impressed by that event and by the energy and commitment of the team to find a cure for spinal cord injury. I'll do whatever I can to help.".
Amongst the many lessons he has learnt since his injury, Paul has gained new insights into his own character, motivations and purpose. He says: "When you come to an understanding of what your life is really about, stay true to that and set your goals along that path. As you move towards those goals recognise and celebrate your progress, no matter how small or how slowly it comes".
Paul feels he has avoided the most severe effects of his spinal cord injury, but he still lives daily with chronic pain, impaired mobility and other issues. Those challenges have increased over the last year, since Paul relocated to the UK from Singapore in July 2014. The move has brought many positives for Paul and his family, but the colder climate and the stresses of rebuilding a life in the UK after 14 years in Asia have dramatically worsened his pain and reduced his mobility. "It has felt as though I am being paralysed again, this time slowly and very painfully". A few months ago he suffered another major blow: a rare condition left him deaf in one ear, totally and permanently. Paul recalls what Gregory Burns said "You take your knocks, you get back up, and you carry on." That’s what Paul is doing. He has built a new exercise program - incorporating yoga and a resistive stretching routine alongside gait training - and that is starting to work. His body is easing and his pain is reducing. He is setting new goals that will gradually rebuild the distances he walks. His ambition is to get back walking in the mountains again, and to continue to help find a cure for paralysis.