Paula was paralysed by a spinal cord injury in 2001 and swam the Solent for Aspire in 2014, raising over £800.  Following her accident she lived in an accessible Aspire house as she couldn’t go back to her home.

I was paralysed by a spinal cord injury in 2001 when I was knocked off my bike by an old man, who just didn’t see me, when I was out training for a triathlon.  For my rehab, I was at the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Stanmore, right next to the Aspire Leisure Centre which is fully accessible and has a ramp into the swimming pool, which is fantastic.

I could use a wheelchair to get into the water and within two months of being paralysed I was back swimming, which helped me so much psychologically.

Initially, I wanted to swim after my injury so that I could go back to doing triathlons, but I had no idea that swimming would have such a positive impact on my mental wellbeing.  I had torn my left tricep in the accident so in the early stages I couldn't swim very well but just being in the water felt amazing. My left ulnar nerve was also damaged leaving me unable to straighten out my left hand. I had occupational therapy every week to try and straighten it, but nothing seemed to work until I started swimming.  Pulling my hand through the water helped it slowly returned to normal.

Since my accident, I've used a racing wheelchair, I've hand biked, skied and water skied but being in the water gives the complete freedom and no pressure.  I've had several bone infections which have left me with a vulnerable area on my left buttock, so swimming is the ideal activity for me now. 

Paula at the end of the Marathon with her medal

I signed up to swim the Solent to give myself a goal and to support Aspire, without whose support I wouldn't be doing half the things I'm doing today.  I absolutely loved it.  Meeting everyone beforehand was great fun and it was good to know the others were nervous too! It's obviously slightly daunting getting in the water (falling over the side of a boat in my case!) but once I got going, I just loved the freedom of the open water. I had a kayaker next to me guiding the way, as did each swimmer, so I never felt alone, and I could just enjoy the swim. Reaching the Isle of Wight was amazing, and the boat ride back was far more relaxed than the one to the start! Then we all had dinner together later that day, a chance to share all our stories.

Paula on the Isle of Wight

I now swim at Heron Lake during the open water season and I also pool swim. I swam the Cotswolds 5k last year and I'm swimming the Dart 10k this Sept for Aspire. I aim to swim about four times a week, two of which are in the open water during the open water season.

I haven’t yet taken on the Aspire Channel Swim myself, but shortly after my injury my teammates from Tri-Force Herts took part in the Aspire Channel Swim to raise funds for Aspire because they gave me such support.

I would love to take part in a Relay Channel Swim one day and hopefully the Dart 10k will give me the confidence to give it a go! Swimming as part of a team would be great fun.

Whether it's open water swimming or pool swimming, I can't recommend getting in the water enough. It's low impact and just such a fantastic feeling. If you haven't taken the plunge yet, do it now!

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