See beyond the disability to the ability

Oct 16, 2023 | Diversity, Home Featured, Opinion

Ahead of ISE’s EDI Conference, keynote speaker Claire Lomas MBE, shares how she turned her life around after a horse-riding accident left her paralysed from the chest down.

Being told that I will never walk again was an incredibly devastating and life-altering experience. It shattered the foundation of what was once considered normal and challenged the very essence of my identity. Initially, it felt like the ground beneath me had crumbled, leaving me in a state of disbelief, shock, and grief.

The realisation that a fundamental aspect of mobility had been permanently altered, aged just 27, was overwhelming and led to a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration, and a huge sense of loss. Everyday tasks and activities that were once taken for granted suddenly became monumental hurdles.

Most aspects of my life changed; I had just reached the highest level in my sport with my future goals suddenly being stripped away from me, I lost my career, my relationship fell apart and I woke up each morning hating what I had become. Disabled.

Thankfully I dug deep enough to wade myself through these darkest times, accepting help when I needed it most and eventually going on to achieve things I once would have deemed impossible.

Focus on the possible

Although it took a lot to come to terms with my catastrophic spinal cord injury, which left me paralysed from the chest down, it has also opened numerous doors.

Once I decided to focus on what was possible rather than dwelling on the long list of things I could no longer do, my life started to rebuild and improve.

I knew I was lucky to still have use of my arms and I was in a position to help rewrite the future of paralysis by fundraising to support the exciting research – new goals were set.

I have now raised over £865,000 for charity from various feats including walking the London Marathon using a robotic suit taking 17 days, riding motorbikes and flying planes, which all fit in around a busy family life with my husband and our two daughters as well as a career as a motivational speaker.

So, the accident that turned my life upside down hasn’t held me back in the way I initially thought it would. In fact, it still amazes me that I can ride a motorbike at speeds of over 100mph on track days with mainly able-bodied men or fly a plane solo. I am eternally grateful for the adaptions that allow me to do this.

Not only can I do so much despite being paralysed, I feel included amongst mainly able-bodied people and often in male dominated environment too.

The sports I have found provide me with a sense of empowerment and accomplishment, and the thrill of pushing myself generates a profound sense of pride and fulfilment. I often find myself feeling totally free, able and not defined by my disability but there are times I don’t feel this way.

The biggest challenges can be just travelling around, getting in buildings, staying in hotels, parking etc. for work or for leisure, something most people want to be able to do, and the thought of doing this can fill me with anxiety and worries. Also, for some, getting people to see beyond the disability and seeing ability.

Diversity is a fact and inclusion is an act.

Claire will headline ISE’s EDI Conference on 7 November 2023, find more information or book tickets

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