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Paralyzed woman swims English channel without wetsuit

“I’m exhausted but relieved and excited."

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Paula Craig MBE, 59, became the first person with complete spinal cord injury to swim the English channel. (Aspire via SWNS)

By Lauren Beavis via SWNS

A woman becomes the first person with complete spinal cord injury to swim the English Channel - without a wetsuit.

After being knocked off her bike and being left paralyzed from the waist down, Paula Craig MBE marked the 21st anniversary of her accident by swimming the impressive stretch as part of a relay team.

Paula, 59, was one of six swimmers who set off from Dover to France at 2:48 am on August 4 - covering 21 miles in a total of 14 hours and three minutes.

Each individual swam for an hour in rotation until they arrived in France, with Paula taking on two hour-long swims.

The former police officer and marathon runner from Fishguard, Wales, completed the challenge to raise money for Aspire - a national spinal injury charity that has supported her since the accident.

She has raised a staggering £23,492 ($28,373).

Paula Craig MBE was knocked off her bike and left paralyzed from the waist down. (Aspire via SWNS)

Upon arriving in France, Paula said: “I’m exhausted but relieved and excited that we made it to France.

"The rest of the team were incredible, supporting me all the way and helping me get back onto the boat after my swims.

"I support Aspire whenever I can because the charity is the reason I am where I am today, in terms of both my physical and mental wellbeing."

She added: "Their support since I was paralyzed by a spinal cord injury has 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.”

The other members of the team were Katy Bradfield, Emma White, Simon Elwell, Katy Bradfield, Paul Parrish and Marc Gledhill, with Tessa McLean as the boat leader.

Paul Parrish, Aspire’s Director of Fundraising and Marketing and one of the team members says, “Paula was our sixth swimmer and was quite happy to roll off the back of the boat into the murky water.

"She has a T12 full spinal break so her legs should drag in the water, but she somehow manages to use her core strength to prevent this and is able to swim long distances without them sinking.

"That is remarkable, but it’s her bravery that always stands out; she is unable to tread water or get out of the Channel quickly.

"She has to rely on her team, and we had devised a system to get her safely back on the boat using a spinal board.

"It wasn’t easy for her, but the system worked, and we could carry out slick swimmer changeovers.”

Paula was hit by a car on 27 May 2001 whilst on her bike training for a triathlon.

But the impressive woman has refused to let her injury defeat her - she was the first woman to complete the wheelchair London marathon as a runner and wheelchair athlete in 2002, less than a year after her accident.

She has since participated as a wheelchair tri-athlete at an international level.

Paula gained these remarkable achievements whilst continuing to work as a police officer for the Met, being promoted to Detective Inspector and working in the murder squad, internal affairs and counter terrorism.

In 2005, she was even awarded an MBE for Services to the Police in the New Year Honour’s List.

Brian Carlin, Aspire’s CEO says, “Paula Craig MBE has been a fantastic ambassador for Aspire for many years, speaking in schools and at our Sports Quiz Dinners and fundraising by taking on challenges such as the London Marathon and swimming the Solent.

"We are extremely grateful for everything she has done to support Aspire over the past 20 years and the £23,000 she has raised through her Relay Channel Swim will enable us to support other people who have been paralyzed by Spinal Cord Injury.”

You can support Paula's cause here.

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