I walked the marathon – in 17 days!
Claire Lomas, paralysed after a horse riding accident, explains how she pushed herself to compete in London
SHE may be paralysed from the chest down following a horseriding accident, but that wasn’t going to stop Claire Lomas, British campaigner, fundraiser and former event rider, from completing her ambition of walking the Marathon. With the help of Israeli technology, she realised her dream. Using a bionic walking system called ReWalk, Lomas had entered the 2012 London Marathon well in advance, in anticipation of getting the equipment in time to train. However, it arrived only 12 weeks before the event, which did not leave her much time to prepare. In fact, as she was going to be the first person in the UK to train in the suit, the makers of ReWalk did not believe she would be able to do it. Lomas says: “When I trained in the suit, no one I was working with knew much about it. It was the first time the physio had seen the suit and no one had much idea about how it worked. The trainers were learning on me. “We were all trying to find our way with it, first it was stand and balance, and then steps. I was focused on trying to walk distances in preparation for the London Marathon. I never questioned I would not do it. I just took every step and every step was a step closer. “The London Marathon was a huge ambition. It’s not what the people from ReWalk were expecting. It is one thing walking around the room but quite another to walk 26 miles after 12 weeks’ training. Then it was forecast to rain and the suit had never been out in the wet.”
It was only halfway through Lomas’s attempt that the CEO of ReWalk realised she was going to do it and booked his tickets to come over to see her at the finish line. She was the first person in the world to complete the London Marathon in a bionic suit, taking 17 days to finish the event. Invented by Amit Goffer, who is paralysed from the neck down, the ReWalk is produced by Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies and is changing lives for paraplegics. The ReWalk helps users have upright mobility, increased exercise and enables access to areas without the use of ramps. Training allows walking, standing, sitting and the capacity to go up and down stairs. The suit works by tilting the pelvis for every Claire Lomas, paralysed after a horse riding accident, explains how she pushed herself to compete in London step. To start with Lomas could not even make the suit move, and she had one person on each side helping tilt her pelvis for her until she got used to it by herself.
“Lighting the Paralympic cauldron was unbelievable, and to do it stood up was just incredible,”
Carrying the torch Following her London Marathon achievement, Lomas was asked to light the cauldron for the 2012 Paralympic Games, where she met prime minister David Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson and Lord Coe. “Lighting the Paralympic cauldron was unbelievable, and to do it stood up was just incredible,” Lomas says. “It was difficult as I had to pick the torch up with no core strength and not being able to feel my legs. It was a real honour to be asked to do that. I felt really proud, and then to meet everyone and talk to everyone on an eye-to-eye level, it is just fantastic. That is something the suit brings in, to be your own height. It felt great.” In June this year, the Zionist Federation invited her to Israel, where she met inventor Amit Goffer and the team that built the ReWalk.
Lomas says: “It was great to see the team and see how they are progressing with it and their ideas for the future. It is such a high-tech piece of equipment and something I hope they keep developing and that other people get the opportunity to use.” She continues to use the suit as a rehab tool for getting up on her feet and keeping herself fit and healthy, until there is a cure for paralysis. She was also the first person to take the ReWalk home for personal use. “I use it as often as I can for that purpose. I have always done that ever since I had my accident and wanted to keep myself fit and make what recovery I can,” Lomas says.
“I would have liked it to walk down the aisle for my wedding, but I wasn’t quite ready at the time.”
Before her accident in 2007 Lomas was at the top of her game in event riding. The suit was not cheap and she raised money from a nude calendar featuring Olympic riders as well as receiving a big donation from the Matt Hampson Foundation, a charity that provides support for people seriously injured through sport. One of her main focuses is raising money for the charities Spinal Research and The Nicholls Foundation – she did a 400-mile hand-cycle around parts of the UK, calling at schools to talk to the children and raise money for them. Lomas says: “You make your own luck. I went from feeling really rubbish, but made myself do the little things to start with and then it went from there. If I dwelled on everything I lost, which I did do in the early days, I would not have had the opportunities I have had.”
At the moment Claire is organising an event at Newbury racecourse, continuing her school visits and is also writing a book where she talks about how she rebuilt her life after the accident, met her husband Dan and gave birth to her daughter Maisie. All these will help raise money for the Nicholls Foundation, and also via her website, www.claireschallenge.co.uk.