- “I’ve decided to turn an appalling act of terror into a force for greater good. I want to do something to shift the spotlight away from those who tried to end my life towards those who helped me rebuild it. I want to raise £1m for Spinal Injuries Association.” Martin is to take a Paralympic torch from the London Olympics to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain in an epic seven-day expedition from 1 September.
- The climb aims to raise £1m for Spinal Injuries Association, the charity Martin credits with helping him to rebuild his life after the terrorist attack. “Every year they step in to support thousands of people like me – paralysed by damage to their spinal cord.”
- “Seven people are paralysed by spinal cord injury every day, but just one in three spinal cord injured people get the specialist care they need. Without SIA I am not sure what we would do.”
Martin Hibbert was paralysed in the Manchester Bomb explosion in 2017 that killed 22 people and injured hundreds more, including his teenage daughter. Now a wheelchair user, Martin is going to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 19,308ft, at the very moment the Paralympics are being played out in Tokyo.
Martin, 44, from Bolton, will raise funds for Spinal Injuries Association and use the climb to send a message of optimism and inclusivity for life after injury.
Since his recovery, Martin committed to working with the charity as a Trustee to offer hope, confidence and practical skills to other people paralysed by spinal cord injury.
“Disabled people have to climb their own mountains every day, so I’ve decided to climb a real one,” he says. “Too often the focus is on what disabled people can’t do, not what they can. I’m challenging that. I want to turn an appalling act of terrorism into the complete opposite – bringing people together in a spirit of hope, optimism and inclusivity. And taking a Paralympic torch to the top of Kilimanjaro is a powerful statement of the possible.
“I’ll be crossing dense rainforest, boulder fields and snow to over 19,000ft and using a Bowhead hand bike to get me there. It’ll be the hardest thing I’ve done, but I want to inspire a nation and beyond to support other injured and disabled people. To do all of that in a Paralympic year, well that’s just the icing on the cake.”
Joining the climb are Ollie Buncombe from Spinal Injuries Association, Rob Grew who ran into the Manchester Arena immediately after the explosion to offer help to the severely injured casualties, Stuart Wildman, the Head Nurse at the Major Trauma Centre at Salford Royal who treated Martin when he was admitted after his injury, Graeme Hackland, the Chief Information Officer of Williams Racing, and Chris Patton, a Tissue and SCI Nurse from Salisbury who will be supporting Martin medically throughout the climb.
The climb comes at a time when the needs of spinal cord injured people are greater than ever. More than 50,000 people across the UK face a life of paralysis through damage to their spinal cord. Seven people every day across the country are newly injured. And yet research by SIA has shown that only one in three of those will receive vital specialist support. Even before the pandemic, NHS England had agreed that at the initial stages of an injury there were at least 50 specialist beds missing. During the pandemic, investigation by Spinal Injuries Association has shown that in excess of 100 beds normally used by spinal cord injured people at specialist centres have been closed.
For the thousands who are missing out it means receiving no more than their immediate medical needs, often delivered by medical staff with little expertise in spinal cord injury. The result is that paralysed people’s long-term needs – mental and physical wellbeing – are not fully met, resulting in a revolving door. Spinal Injuries Association is responding to as many of those as it can with its specialist nursing, support and counselling services, while advocating for much greater priority to be given to spinal cord injured people’s needs.
Martin adds: “The money raised is my way not just to thank Spinal Injuries Association for everything it has done for me but to make sure it can reach the thousands who remain in urgent need. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. I want to start a revolution to change people’s perceptions of what it means to be disabled. I want everyone to have the care and support they need, helping everyone to lead the life they want and being fully involved in the decisions that shape their experiences.”
Nik Hartley OBE, the Chief Executive of Spinal Injuries Association, says: “Martin is a football-loving family man whose life changed unexpectedly and forever one night in Manchester. With grit and determination, he has rebuilt his life and is now supporting other injured people. Too often disabled people are seen as second-class citizens, but Martin’s incredible climb is a powerful statement of why achieving one’s goals should not be defined by disability. He is aiming to fundamentally challenge people’s perceptions of what it means to be disabled.”