Paula has a spinal cord injury and features in the ads
Paula Craig MBE was paralysed by a spinal cord injury in 2001 when she was knocked off her bike whilst training for a triathlon. This year she is attempting to become the first person with a complete spinal cord injury to swim the 22 miles of the Channel without a wetsuit, taking on the challenge as part of a Relay Channel Swim team to mark the 20th anniversary since she was injured.
I was taught to swim as a child and have continued to swim, on and off, ever since. However, I upped my training in about 2000 when I began to take part in triathlons. Since my accident in 2001 - when I was paralysed by a spinal cord injury - I particularly enjoy the feeling of being free in the water. Whilst I’ve never had a problem being in a wheelchair, it’s a great feeling to just float free without anything touching me other than the water. Like everyone else, I enjoy swimming because of the benefits of cardio vascular training, it’s non weight bearing and it helps my mental wellbeing. On top of this, I particularly benefit from there being no chance of any pressure areas, unlike wheelchair racing or hand cycling where I had a number of skin issues.
I agreed to take part in Aspire’s photoshoot because I think it’s important to show that people with different levels of ability can take on the Aspire Channel Swim.
I also know how fortunate I am in that because of my level of injury, I can still swim unassisted. Many people with a spinal cord injury - because of the level of their injury - are unable to swim and so I think it’s important, for those of us who can, to show our support.
I like to support Aspire whenever I can because the charity is the reason I am where I am today, both in terms of my physical and mental wellbeing. Their support included providing me with accessible accommodation after my discharge from hospital which enabled me to return to work within a year of my accident. Their fully inclusive facilities at the Aspire Leisure Centre enabled me to return to sport and, in turn, to start living life to the full again.
I enjoyed the photoshoot, although it was quite strange having to swim so close to someone as they filmed - I did manage to hit the photographer in the face a couple of times!
Because I am training to take part in a Relay Channel Swim with Aspire, these days I mainly swim outdoors and access is the biggest difficulty as very few lakes are fully accessible - and the sea never is - so I tend to swim at Heron Lake where I can be totally independent. Otherwise, I have to go with at least two others to carry me in and out of the water. I’m very fortunate in that I can get myself in and out of most swimming pools without any difficulties. Of course, in the early days after my accident, I used the pool at the Aspire Leisure Centre which is completely wheelchair accessible as it has a ramp into the water, which was perfect.
I would definitely recommend swimming to other disabled people. Being in the water is an amazing feeling, but it’s not always easy to motivate yourself to go to the pool, and that’s why signing up to the Aspire Channel Swim can help. The challenge gives people the incentive to get the miles in, improve their physical and mental wellbeing whilst raising money for an amazing charity. What’s not to love?!
Our seven day window for the Channel relay swim begins on the 9th August year so not long to go! Unfortunately, I’ve just had a week in hospital with cellulitis which has knocked my training - and therefore my confidence - a little but I was back in the lake at 6.30am this week before work so, hopefully, I’ll be back on track in no time. I’m really looking forward to it, especially now that a couple of our teams have completed their swims. I’m not looking forward to the sea sickness or the jellyfish but I’m sure that will all be forgotten in the euphoria of touching French sand!