She can’t walk unaided, but gritty Claire Lomas can ski, ride a motorbike, has tackled marathons… and can now fly.
For paralysed Claire has taken to the skies in a microlight after getting her pilot’s licence. But the sky isn’t the limit.
She has applied to join one of the first zero-gravity flights with a disabled crew. If successful, she will experience weightlessness in a free-falling plane dubbed the “Vomit Comet”.
The flight is part of Mission Astro Access, which hopes to send disabled astronauts into outer space.
Claire, 41, says: “Imagine being able to float, flip and soar like an astronaut after 15 years of lifting my paralysed body around getting in and out of the car or shower.
“Stephen Hawking described it as ‘true freedom’. I’d love to experience that – and challenge people’s perception of disability.
“It’s incredible to think that I can’t walk, but I can fly. Getting into my flight gear is a struggle, but it is amazing being up there. I love the feeling of the wind in my face.”
Claire has confounded people’s expectations since being left paralysed from the chest down by a freak horse riding accident in 2007.
She has done the London Marathon twice – in 2012, spending 16 days walking the route in a robotic suit, and then last year, in her wheelchair and motorcycle leathers.
Claire adds: “It was nice to get my own medal. I couldn’t have one last time, as I didn’t complete the race in time. But several runners gave me theirs, which was incredible.”
The mum of two, from Melton Mowbray, Leics, has also done the Manchester Marathon, the Great North Run and hand-cycled 400 miles across the UK.
More events are lined up as she seeks to boost an £825,000 charity pot to £1million.
Claire has received an MBE from Prince William, a Daily Mirror Pride of Sport award and lit the cauldron at the London Paralympic Games.
She has a business as an inspirational public speaker and in March released her second memoir, The Bigger Picture. But her most precious feat is becoming mum to Maisie, 11, and Chloe, five.
She says: “After my accident, I didn’t think ‘will I ever walk a marathon?’ It was ‘will I have children?’ I was so angry with my body for what it couldn’t do, but it has given me the most special gift in the world. That still amazes me.”
Claire used to be a chiropractor with a boyfriend and a passion for horse . That changed in a flash when her steed, Rolled Oats, clipped a tree at horse trials. Claire fell to the ground, fracturing her neck, spine and ribs.
She says: “I’d had bad falls but this was different. I felt numb inside and out. I knew I was paralysed.”
Her relationship and career petered out and Claire “questioned whether life was worth living”.
She rallied herself by focusing on what she could do and overcoming a fear of failure.
A year on, she joined a dating website to pass the time while strapped to a wooden frame to strengthen her bone density and stretch her muscles.
“I didn’t think anyone would want me. I felt like damaged goods,” says Claire. But after three days, she got a message from her now husband Dan, a scientific researcher. He was also a piano player who loved motorbikes, did skydives and was on the verge of becoming a qualified pilot.
Dan, 47, has aided Claire throughout her challenges. But it is a two-way support process. For he struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
A proper diagnosis in 2015 helped them overcome marital difficulties. Dan says: “Most able-bodied people would struggle to keep up with her lifestyle and challenges. She has done it all while being the universe’s best mum and dealing with my OCD. I’m forever grateful.”
And Claire adds: “If I could change my life back to what it was before my accident, I wouldn’t.
“It taught me to embrace life. I have done so many incredible things I would never have tried otherwise.”