Former Royal Marines Officer and Help for Heroes Ambassador, Paul Spanner, talks para cycling, overcoming adversity and giving something back.
I’ve always been a keen sportsman, but had limited opportunities to pursue my passions of cycling and skiing while serving.
My injuries aren’t obvious to people who don’t know me, but just over three years ago I had a near-fatal accident, fracturing my skull and breaking my neck and back in 12 places.
Physically I recovered quickly once a titanium spring was placed between my C4/C5 vertebrae, but my brain injury has taken much longer to heal, and it’s this that has been the most difficult thing to cope with both for my family and me.
Tell us about your recent cycling challenges and your experience on the rides
While at Headley Court in 2013, I was introduced to the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery team, then the Team GB para sports development team, and was initially coached in cycling.
I rapidly improved and went through the qualifying and classification process to compete as a para cyclist. Keen to give back to Help for Heroes and inspire others, I set about organising a charity ride with some of my fellow cyclists to ride from London to Paris, completing it in 13 hours 37 minutes. Since then, I’ve completed as many rides as possible with Help for Heroes.
In 2016, I cycled in the Big Battlefield Bike Ride and Dawn Raid.
Why do you take part in these rides?
Firstly, to say thank you personally to all the Help for Heroes fundraisers who give so much to help people like me and my fellow Band of Brothers get our lives back on track.
Secondly, to let people see what a difference their efforts and donations make. It’s not just the money raised, it’s the network of support that extends out from these events, as well as raising awareness that we are capable and contributing members of society who want to give back, too.
And, most importantly, for me to challenge people’s perceptions of what a disability might look like. On a good day, I can still ride quite fast, but when riding with a group of mixed-ability cyclists, it’s nice to go at a more leisurely pace, chat and offer each other encouragement.
Dawn Raid was a great experience. I was hoping to ride the course in around 5 hours, but a succession of punctures put paid to that! It was through the kindness of other riders providing me with an extra inner tube, that I was able to continue the ride. It was a humbling experience, and more rewarding than setting an amazing time.
What other challenges have you got coming up?
There are always new challenges on the horizon. In the past two years, I’ve learnt to speak again, finished an MSc and am about to start a PhD. I’m close to gaining my pilots licence, and I’m looking for regular full-time employment. I’m going to ride in the Prudential RideLondon 100 and Prologue.
I have also been coerced by my partner to run a series of marathons and ultra-marathons to raise money for other worthwhile causes that have helped us along the way.
I hope to meet many more great friends and supporters through Help for Heroes events and continue to be an Ambassador for this great charity that has done so much for me, my family, my friends and colleagues.
See you all on the roads at the next event, I hope!