INSPIRATIONAL fundraiser Claire Lomas will take part in this year's Great North Run half marathon with the help of her bionic suit.
Claire, from Leicestershire, was paralysed from the chest down in a riding accident in 2007 but in 2012 became the first person to complete a marathon wearing the revolutionary ‘ReWalk' suit when she took part in the London Marathon, taking 17 days to complete the course.
Claire's Great North Run half marathon journey will begin on Wednesday, September 7, where it is anticipated she will complete around three miles per day, and take in the final mile on Sunday, September 11 in front of the crowds on The Leas, before the elite athletes finish the event.
She will become the first person to take on a Great North Run using a bionic suit, and Claire, 36, is looking forward to the day.
“I've always fancied doing the Great North Run and I was thrilled when the organisers invited me to take part having heard I had been turned away from other events,” said Claire whose mother, Joyce is from Newcastle.
“My accident was an eventing accident. Horses take up your life. I'd just got to the highest level in the sport about eight months before and it was such a big loss for me.
“But as much as I loved it, it stopped me doing other things so since then, life has opened new doors for me. I've done the London Marathon four years ago but I always wanted to do the Great North Run because it looks amazing, with a brilliant atmosphere.”
Claire has rebuilt her life since the accident nine years ago, discovering new sports and raising money for spinal charities.
She has raised more than £500,000 for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation and has given numerous motivational speeches.
During her five days on Tyneside, Claire will be talking to children at school assemblies along the route, who will also join her for sections of the walk from Newcastle to South Shields.
Claire, whose daughter Maisie, aged five, will be taking part in the Mini Great North Run, said: “After London, I did 400 miles on my hand bike around the UK and visited schools to talk to them about how I dealt with my accident, what I've done since and to never give up, so that's what I'm doing again during the Great North Run.
“Each day I'll be doing a school visit, talk to the kids in the assembly, some will join me, hopefully they can take a few things away from that.
“I had no choice with what happened to me. You have a bit of a choice in how you deal with it, but it wasn't without dark days. Everyone thinks that the marathon was the biggest challenge, but just getting out of bed when you've got nothing to get up for was a lot harder.
“Rebuilding my life was the darkest time and the hardest time. Now I'm in a better place, I've got my little girl, so it's very different. If I can go into the schools and help one person then it's a brilliant feeling. I feel in a fortunate position to be able to do that.”
Claire had completed the London Marathon only 12 weeks after wearing the ReWalk suit for the first time, and although she has improved in the four years since, the technology still poses a massive challenge to her.
Nevertheless, Claire has been previously restricted from being an official competitor at events as it is believed her suit gives her an advantage over other participants.
“The suit has a motor but I can tell you that it is hard work,” she explained. “I certainly have to work to use it. It moves my legs for me. Obviously I can't do that because I am paralysed from the chest down.
“Even balancing myself in the suit is difficult. I can't feel the ground I'm on. I have to shift my weight for every step at the right time to enable me to take a step, while balancing myself on the crutches. Anyone who has walked on crutches with an injury will know that it is not easy.
“Not having my own balance and not being able to feel anything makes it all the more challenging. It's certainly not a huge advantage. It moves my legs for me but I'm really working the parts of me that work – they're working really hard.”
Event organisers The Great Run Company have given Claire number 2016 for the Great North Run. Chief executive, Mark Hollinshead, said: “Claire is an inspiration and we are absolutely delighted to welcome her. Her enthusiasm, positivity and ‘can do' attitude is both uplifting and infectious.
“She will be guaranteed the warmest of receptions in her latest challenge at the Great North Run.”
RUN WITH THE WORLD AT THE GREAT NORTH RUN
We want the 2016 Great North Run to be the first running event to boast a participant from every country in the world – and we need you to help us achieve it.
After becoming the first running event of its kind to welcome our millionth finisher over the finish line in 2014, we are now aiming for another first – to recruit at least one runner born in every member state of the United Nations – a total of 193 countries – to take part in the iconic event from Newcastle to South Shields, in September.
Do you know an Andorran in Acton? A postman from Palau? A teacher from Togo?
Email us at email@example.com or tweet us using #GNRWorldRun