‘Bionic woman’ Claire Lomas: Going to the loo and feeding my child are my real successes
When Claire Lomas, who is paralysed from the chest down, finished the London Marathon in a robotic suit in the spring, she was universally hailed as the ‘Bionic Woman’. She tells me that she knew the challenge was going to be a massive one, and that the achievement, if she managed it, would be a first.
“Because what I’d done was so unusual, it meant that the press followed me around, reporting on my life and background. I have been nominated for and won awards, it’s been amazing.” And the awards are still coming. Next week Claire will attend the Inspiration Awards for Women, whose alumni include Dame Helen Mirren and Annie Lennox, to find out whether she’s won in the Inspirational Fundraiser category.
This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, I can tell Claire is an outstanding character after five minutes on the phone with her. For a start, both times we speak, she explains that she’s a little out of breath because she’s riding her bike. Just as I’m thinking that having a cup of tea and doing an interview is enough multi-tasking for me, Claire tells me that she has to be on her ’static bike’ as much as possible because she’s in training to ride from Paris to London.
Paraplegia notwithstanding, she will set off in April of next year on a specially-designed outdoor bike. Advanced FES technology will act as her brain, transmitting signals to tell her muscles to move. “But that doesn’t mean it’ll do all the hard work for me”, she stresses, “the electrodes can’t override tired legs!”
When I gush about how incredible a feat this is, and how this seems to have been the year of so-called disabled people forcing us to focus only on their abilities, Claire takes an unexpected point of view.
“I would never take anything away from the fantastic coverage of brilliant disabled people, I would just like to be permitted to add to it. It’s really important to say that my real successes, and the things that have made me happy since my accident, are anything but outstanding. It’s going to the loo, feeding your child, or just managing to have more ‘up days’ than ‘down day’s that [as a disabled person] are your real victories.”
When the triumphant Paralympics were held this summer, Claire was proud to light the cauldron in Trafalgar Square: “some of the Paralympians’ successes were super-human in their excellence.” But she is entirely right in saying that the news agenda was dominated by tales of exceptional people doing exceptional things. The focus, as David Beckham reminded us in the Sainsbury’s ads, was firmly on the ‘extraordinary’.
Indeed Claire knows other disabled people doing incredible things, such as her friend Matt Hampson, who is paralysed from the neck down, yet has helped so many others. But she also knows disabled people like her friend Catherine Kouam, who didn’t have the respite of many ‘up days’ following the accident that paralysed her two-and-a-half years ago. Due to complications from her injuries she sadly passed away last month.
“I have my days feeling like Catherine did, overcome with frustration and missing my active body. When I could walk, I always walked fast. I rode horses in competitions, I trained hard and played hard – life was very much in the fast lane.”
Claire’s forthcoming bike ride is already raising money in Catherine’s memory, and I ask her if it’s this thought spurs her on. “Yes and no,” she deliberates, “the thought of (Catherine) will motivate me hugely. But, would I have the energy to keep up my daft stunts without the support of my family? Not a chance.”
When Claire was thrown from her horse in the Osberton Horse Trials in 2007, she was just 27. She broke ribs, fractured her neck and injured her spinal cord, causing paralysis. Soon after, the relationship she had been in fell apart. “I see now that we weren’t right for each other,” she says. But at her lowest ebb, having lost all feeling in her once-toned legs, she couldn’t imagine feeling attractive again. ”I wasn’t worried about missing event riding as much as I was about being lonely. I was worried about not doing normal, run-of-the-mill things like going on dates, getting married and being a mum.”
I’m not one to endorse marriage as the best a woman can hope for, and Claire’s actions show that she too wants much more out of life. But there’s no escaping her frank disclosure: it’s the everyday, bog-standard stuff, like finding a partner and having a family which fulfils her. And it’s the same for many of us, disabled or otherwise.
This, paradoxically, is why Claire continues to pursue the extraordinary. “Fundraising is beyond vital,” she explains, and while her achievements may inspire people, the money she raises is what makes a material difference. “Being disabled is expensive, and the advancements in medicine that benefit us all have to be paid for by someone.”
Since her nomination for the Inspiration Awards for Women, I ask Claire whom she hopes to help with her fundraising efforts. As was my suspicion, her dream is not so much for extraordinary people to have special things; but for ordinary people to have the ordinary things in life.Tagged in: Claire Lomas, disability, Matt Hampson, olympics, paralympics
Recent Posts on Notebook
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
- Justin Webb on the medical advances in tackling heart disease
- The Photography Blog: 'Control Order House' by Edmund Clark - Photographing our response to terrorism
- Dementia Awareness Week: Should we keep an open mind to spiritual solutions?
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter