|8 Mar 2023|
On Tuesday 7 March, Paul Stewart (Wargrave 1994-99) spoke to the whole school about his determination to overcome a major spinal injury. Here Head of School Tess Garrett reflects on the talk.
Wow - where do I even start? I think it is best to start by thanking Paul on behalf of Eastbourne College for coming and talking to us about his life and journey of determination and perseverance.
Paul told us how his busy, active life changed in an instant when he got caught in an avalanche on a snowboarding trip in France with his friends. To many in the College audience the pictures of the skiing and the mountains were very familiar and proved just how similar Paul’s life was to our own. He was dyslexic at school so said he had to work twice as hard as his peers to keep up, but he was also a keen sportsman, and this is what defined him when he was at the College. This meant that, when the accident took place, his life was quite literally turned upside down.
But Paul had not come to lecture us on mountain safety, rather he came as living proof that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. After Paul had his accident he was told he would never walk again, which is something that is just beyond comprehension. However, he did not accept this prognosis, proving to us that when others put you down you can prove them wrong, and how it is essential to do this for your own sake.
Paul trained his body over what must have been the toughest months and years of his life. He taught us that mental strength can get you to where you want to be. When you have those hard days, he said, find the root and try to fix that so you can live more positive lives. Paul went on to teach himself to walk and dramatically marked this incredible achievement by walking with the Olympic torch in 2012. Paul had explained just how many times he had been told that walking would not be an option and shared with us the extraordinary emotion that swept over him after he completed this incredible milestone, walking stick in one hand, Olympic torch in the other.
But that was not all. Paul’s grit and determination knew no bounds and his next message to us was to shoot for the stars and keep aiming to achieve new goals. To the amazement of everyone in the audience, he talked about the IronSpine Challenge charity fundraiser that he set up in 2012, to help others who have suffered a spinal cord injury, raising over half a million pounds in the process. Having not walked more than a mile himself, he decided to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and walk a marathon distance. He then returned to France, ending his challenge at the top of the mountain that broke him and changed his life.
We saw how physically and mentally strong Paul is. He aims to raise awareness for spinal injuries as well as fund research, and I can confirm that the College pupils and staff now have a better understanding and insight of the world he inhabits.
'I think a lot of people in England don’t really comprehend what having a spinal injury is. I didn’t and I knew people in wheelchairs... I don’t want pity, I want people to have more respect and more admiration for someone who has had a spinal injury.'
The talk left people speechless, finding it hard to comprehend just how much Paul had achieved after everything that he had been faced with. The talk inspired us to do more, push ourselves to be our very best and never ever give up because that’s not what life is about. We will all remember the incredible talk Paul gave us for years to come but more importantly we will aim to act on the messages that he shared with us.
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