Formerly Paralyzed Man Attempts Ironman Triathlon


Englishman Paul Stewart is completing an Ironman Triathlon on an extended timeline–what he calls the IronSpine Challenge–after being told he would never walk again. Stewart was paralyzed in a 2008 skiing accident:

While the others escaped uninjured, the force of the snow brushed Stewart off a 200ft cliff. When he hit the bottom, he knew immediately that he was in trouble.

“I heard the snap,” he recalls. “When you’re a sportsman you know what that means. I opened my eyes and couldn’t move a thing. My back had been so severely broken it severed my spinal cord, causing me to be paralysed from the waist down.”

After a week in a French hospital, where his view was restricted to the ceiling and he kept waking up thinking he had been kidnapped, he was admitted to Stoke Mandeville. There the assumption was that he would never walk again.

Although the worst may be behind him, Stewart is still paralyzed below the knees. UK’s The Telegraph caught up with Paul during his seven-day stint on the 112-mile biking course:

“It’s the hills that get me,” he says. “Able-bodied people when they cycle uphill use their calf muscles, bum muscles, stand up in the saddle. I can’t do any of that. All I’ve got is my thigh muscles and they are crying out. You’ll see it’s a very slow process.”

“Yesterday, after I’d struggled up a hill, a man who’d been behind me got out of his car and gave me a right verbal pasting,” says Stewart. “He told me not to play in the road, told me I was a joker. I thought everyone would understand. It kind of set me back. For the rest of the day I was thinking; ‘Is it worth it?’”

Nevertheless, Stewart is motivated by the knowledge that he has already raised 325,000 British pounds for two charities, Spinal Research and Wings for Life.

The IronSpine itinerary retraces Stewart’s route from the hospital to the site of his injury. He plans to finish the Challenge by scaling the cliff from which he fell.

“I admit I’m scared about confronting that,” he says. “But I guess it’s more the fear of failure. It broke me once, I want to win this time. I want to level the scoreboard.”

Stewart is chronicling his Challenge on Twitter @IronSpinePaul. As of this writing, he last reported leaving Watford for AldenHamPark. The IronSpine Challenge is collecting donations here.

All quotes are from The Telegraph.


  1. […] Stewart, who I introduced in a recent post, has completed his extended Ironman after a skiing accident left him paralyzed below the knees. He […]

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