Another stirring story from one of our favourite authors - the indomitable Lizzie Tench. This one takes getting outside into the fresh air to a whole new level…
My name is Lizzie Tench. I’m 44, live near Chester and I have incomplete paraplegia at T12/L1 due to a spinal cord injury sustained in 2012 when I was cycling and hit by an overtaking car towing a trailer. I had numerous injuries and spent 3.5 months at the Midlands Centre for Spinal Injuries and 12 months at Transhouse; transitional accommodation for people with spinal cord injuries.
I was a keen runner and swimmer in my pre-SCI days, so I was eager to get back into sport. I started swimming in the hydropool at the spinal unit, but I was convinced my sporting days were pretty much over until I went on a Back Up course and tried handcycling, wheelchair basketball and kayaking. (Back Up are a spinal injuries charity for whom I now volunteer as a wheelchair skills trainer and mentor). I started playing wheelchair tennis, at which I wasn’t very skilled, but it was a great way to keep fit and meet people. I had always planned to complete a triathlon as I had been inspired by my brother and sister-in-law, who had taken part in many triathlons, including Ironman races. So, when I heard about Sportsfest in 2013, I decided to go along and find out more about Paratriathlon. I was invited to a Talent ID Day in March 2014, which I didn’t really expect anything to come of, but British Triathlon saw some potential and I was selected for their Talent Development Squad. I competed at British Championships - my first sprint triathlon - in August 2014 and my first international race in Madrid in September 2014, where I won a Silver medal.
I went on to compete in further international races. I was European Champion in 2016 and won a Bronze medal at World Championships in 2015 and a Silver in 2016, as well as numerous other medals at World Paratriathlon Events and World Cups. I was British Champion from 2015 to 2018, reached the dizzy heights of World Ranked No. 1 in 2016 and was twice nominated British Triathlon Female Paratriathlete of the Year. I also competed with the GB Paracanoeing Team at World Championships in 2015 and 2016. I stopped canoeing to focus on triathlon and competed in Australia at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
I read about the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) first ever Skydive Spectacular in one of their publications and I was keen to take part to give something back to this very worthy charity. It is estimated that over 1000 people in the UK are injured or diagnosed with a spinal cord injury every year, meaning that as many as three people a day could hear this life-changing news. Approximately 40,000 people in the UK are living with a spinal cord injury, but as well as those people, such injuries also have a massive impact on family and friends. Personally, I have used SIA’s Peer Support Service and the Advice & Advocacy Service. When I was in hospital it was helpful having a friendly face to break up my day and to introduce me to other people who had been through similar experiences. The early days were very bleak and difficult for my family, partner, friends and me. Trying to come to terms with such a life-changing event was an emotional rollercoaster.
Tandem skydiving was on my bucket list so I ‘jumped’ at the chance to be involved. I found the idea exciting but very scary because although I’d tried paragliding, the idea of jumping out of a plane was a bit crazy and counter-intuitive! I had to get agreement from my doctor that I was fit enough to skydive but, once that was granted, my fundraising really took off.
I arrived early for the skydive at Hinton Airfield in Northamptonshire and the SIA skydivers started arriving – 21 of us in total. I was introduced to my tandem pilot, Geoff, who turned out to have 33 years’ skydiving experience, so I knew I was in safe hands. The anticipation whilst ascending to 13,000 feet was the most scary part as I had no idea what it was going to be like. I had two choices; panic or enjoy it, so I opted for the latter. The door rolled open, we moved to the edge and somersaulted out of the plane. The free-fall for 42 seconds at 120mph was totally exhilarating and surreal. The air rushing past was like being blown with a massive hairdryer and we fell through a cloudless sky, with a spectacular panoramic view. The parachute opened and we drifted back down to earth. As soon as we hit the ground I wanted to do it all over again!
Thanks to my family, friends, people I have met through sport and those on the SCI Owner’s Club page on Facebook who were inspired by my story, I have raised £2,196 for SIA. I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who contributed.
Article first published by Spinal Injuries Association – www.spinal.co.uk