Martin Hibbert, who survived the Manchester Arena bomb explosion which left him paralysed and unable to walk, is to take on an epic virtual handcycling challenge across Italy with the man he credits with rebuilding his life.

On Thursday 14th May he will be joining Gary Dawson, who is paralysed following a motorcycle accident, and who works with Spinal Injuries Association to help other people overcome their injuries. Both will be handcycling – virtually – 66 miles across Northern Italy in their living rooms to support other people paralysed by spinal cord injury.

Gary Dawson (pictured) uses his own experience of spinal cord injury to help other people like Martin rebuild their lives.

Gary first met Martin when he was recovering from severe injuries sustained during the Manchester Arena bomb explosion. Martin was the closest person to the bomber to survive and received 22 shrapnel wounds to his body as he protected his daughter, who was also severely injured, from the blast. 

Gary uses his own experience of spinal cord injury to help other people like Martin rebuild their lives. Like Martin, he’d had to rebuild his life and knew well the challenges that would face Martin in the weeks, months and years ahead.

A deep bond rapidly developed between the pair. Martin said. “I met Gary on the day I was told I would never walk again. I quickly learnt from Gary that despite having been told some devastating news, it didn’t stop be from leading a full life. To see Gary in a wheelchair and understanding that he was injured and has been through what I was going through, I decided that I didn’t want a wheelchair to determine what I was and was not going to do.”

Now Martin is helping Gary. Each year, Gary takes part in an overseas cycle ride to support other spinal cord injured people. When the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) ride was postponed this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Gary decided to do it anyway. He said. ““I was gutted when we had to do cancel the bike ride. But then I thought – I’ll do it from my living room. People paralysed by spinal cord injury need our help now more than ever. Demand for the information, advice and support we offer has increased hugely and we’re keeping other injured people safe, well and out of hospital – saving lives and protecting the NHS.”

He added. “I first met Martin when he was in hospital in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.  I am spinal cord injured myself and I therefore have an understanding of what Marti was going through. The progress he has made has been nothing short of remarkable. It’ll be great to have Martin as my cycling partner and we hope to raise plenty of money to help other spinal cord injured people stay safe from Coronavirus.

The pair have set up a just giving page – and can be followed on social media #garyandmartin.

Andrew Smart of Spinal Injuries Association, said. “We are all so proud of Gary and Martin. They are truly inspiring people. Both show that with the right care and support a fulfilled life after injury is possible. Their efforts are invaluable and will help many more SCI people get the care and support they need and deserve. People can join in by donating through their just giving page. Alternatively, they can jump on their bikes,  join in and fundraise to support two such amazing people.”