Following a T2 complete spinal break in May 2001, Paula Craig was left paralyzed from the waist down after being knocked off her bike. The accident hasn’t stopped her achievements in both her police and sporting career. Her latest challenge and accomplishment takes on the form of swimming the 21 miles of the English Channel as part of a 6-person relay team, all without wearing a wetsuit. She is the first person with a complete spinal cord injury ever complete this.
The team set off from Dover at 02:48 am on the 4th of August 2022 and were swimming for 14 hours and 3 minutes, with Craig herself completing two 1-hour long swims. The date marks the 21st anniversary of Craig’s paralyses, with the team aiming to complete the challenge in 2021 yet postponing the swim due to poor weather.
Craig was awarded an MBE in 2005 for her work in the Metropolitan Police. Sport has always been one of her passions. Despite the Channel Swim being arguably the most ambitious of Craig’s swimming endeavors she previously took on The Solent in 2014 and The Dark 10k in 2019; these are both open water events. Equally, when her accident happened, Craig was a Marathon Runner training for the GB National Triathlon. In a press release, Craig made it clear that “she had no idea what the future would hold [as her] life changed in an instant.”
As well as now being the first person paralyzed from the waist down to swim the Channel, Craig is the only person to have ever run and pushed (in her wheelchair) the London Marathon.
What does it Take to Swim the Channel?
Craig says, “to mark the anniversary of the accident and to celebrate my achievements of the past 20 years, I will be taking on the waves, the cold water, and the jellyfish” but what does it actually mean to swim the English Channel successfully? The first recorded Channel swim was in 1875; since then, there have been 1,731 successful crossings. Battling with changeable seas, shipping lanes, and the often below-freezing temperatures, this is no easy challenge. For a swim to be officially recognized swimmers cannot wear a wetsuit and instead are only allowed a swimming hat, goggles, nose clip, earplugs,and a costume.
Craig completed this challenge to raise money for the spinal cord injury charity Aspire. The charity was founded in 1983 and helps the 50,000 people living with Spinal Cord injury in the UK by supporting them from “injury to independence.” The charity offers practical help to those in need. For Craig, ”the support and opportunities provided by Aspire in the days and months after my injury were invaluable in terms of my mental and physical health.” With someone being paralyzed every 4 hours with a spinal cord injury, the charity recognizes the importance of its work and wants to raise awareness for what they do, especially as the majority of spinal cord injuries are in the age group of 21 to 30.
Craig said she hoped to “raise much-needed funds so that Aspire can continue its vital work” and with the pandemic hitting charities hard, those like Aspire are left struggling for money. In 2020/21, Aspire’s Leisure Centre funds fell by £1.25m due to restrictions and closures, whilst their Housing rental income fell by £50,000. Without these funds, charities will continue to fight the fact that they are unable to deliver their incredible work and services as effectively as in the pre-COVID 19 world.
Craig has spoken publicly since her accident about how Aspire has helped her:
Naming her team Aspire Mutts as an ode to her Cockerpoo Archie, Craig has raised over £23,000 on her JustGiving site.
With charities such as Aspire needing funding more than ever, what is the Cultural Significance of Donating to Charity?