My name is Lizzie Tench. I’m aged 40 and I live in Cheshire with my partner, Jon. I have a spinal cord injury at L1.
I have always loved the outdoors and, before my accident, spent much of my leisure time enjoying activities such as running, walking, climbing mountains, swimming, Pilates, yoga, cycling, camping and scuba diving. I dived throughout the UK and abroad, in places such as Egypt, Maldives, Borneo, Sulawesi, Cuba and Costa Rica, and I was a PADI Divemaster who loved helping teach people to dive in the UK.
However, on 17 March 2012 at the age of 37, I was out cycling with Jon when I was struck by a trailer being towed by a 4-wheel drive vehicle, which overtook too close. I was catapulted into the air, bounced off the trailer, and was sent spinning down the road at speed. The driver failed to stop and, despite a Police investigation, was never traced. I was air-lifted to hospital and had many abrasions, a broken nose, fractured cheekbone, damaged eye socket, facial injuries, five broken ribs, a bleeding spleen, two fractured lumbar vertebrae and spinal cord damage, resulting in paralysis from the waist down. I had five vertebrae fused together to stabilise my spine and two separate facial surgeries. I spent nearly four months in hospital before being discharged to a house for people with spinal cord injuries, where I lived for 12 months, until we could find a suitable bungalow to rent temporarily. I also lost my job as a social worker with children in foster care, as I am unable to access children’s homes in my wheelchair and I haven’t been in paid employment since. The first year following the accident was the most difficult time as I didn’t have anywhere to live that I could call home and Jon had to return to live with his parents. It was an emotional roller-coaster for us both.
However, in the time since the accident, I have not let the grass grow under my wheels! I have embraced opportunities to make a good recovery, and raised over £15,000 for the Midlands Air Ambulance with my family. I wanted something positive to come out of the accident. I had been doing everything right – I was wearing high viz gear, cycling next to the kerb on a clear day on a straight road with Jon – but I was still hit. I believe my cycling helmet saved me from death or serious brain injury as it was cracked, punctured and dented. So, I went on BBC Breakfast TV to show viewers my cycling helmet and to participate in a feature on rural cycling safety. Hopefully, I have persuaded at least one person out there to wear a cycling helmet.
Luckily for me, I recovered some motor function and sensation in my quads whilst in hospital. I have been to a Swedish rehabilitation centre called ‘Vintersol’ in Tenerife (where I had my first post-SCI experience of travelling abroad and did 5 dives in the sea) and one here in the UK called ‘Neurokinex’. As a consequence, I can now walk a few metres in parallel bars. I still have regular physiotherapy and try to stand in my standing frame every day.
It takes time to get used to life in a chair, but I came to understand over time that it could not stop me from living my life – I just had to live it in a more creative way!
This year, I started working with the Back Up Trust as an Outreach & Awareness Volunteer and a Wheelchair Skills Trainer. This involves going to spinal units to talk to newly-injured patients about the great work that Back Up do and teaching them wheelchair skills to increase their independence. I also taught wheelchair skills at a recent ‘Skills for Independence’ course in Essex, which is where I met Russ. I raised approximately £1,600 for Back Up and about the same for Spinal Research this summer by doing two separate mile-long open water swims.
Sport has helped me immensely with my recovery. Physically, it helps me to stay fit and well (which is a challenge when you can’t walk around) and emotionally and psychologically, it helps me to channel my energy into something positive and keeps me on an even keel. I have tried many different sports since my accident – swimming, scuba diving in the UK, Tenerife and Mexico, hand-cycling, wheelchair racing, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, adaptive rowing, kayaking, waterskiing, sit-skiing on snow in Colorado, abseiling, rope climbing, archery, shooting and field athletics. I snorkelled with whale sharks in Mexico for my 40th birthday, which was a tremendous opportunity since, despite doing nearly 350 open water dives, I had never before seen the biggest fish in the World!
I decided I wanted to try my hand at paratriathlon and so, went to a Talent ID Day in March this year where I was selected for the Great Britain Paratriathlon Development Squad. This involves a 750m open water swim, 20km hand-cycle and 5km wheelchair race. I completed 4 races this year, including the British Championships in Liverpool and an ITU World Paratriathlon Event in Madrid, and won Silver medals at both races. I plan to continue competing in paratriathlon and would like to compete internationally next year – I am currently ranked 8th in the World. Unfortunately, PT1 women (my classification) have not been selected for the next Paralympics due to small numbers of women in the sport, so all of my training costs, equipment purchase, etc. will be at my own expense. I have my sights set on the European and World Championships next year and, in the longer-term, perhaps Tokyo 2020.
I would like to buy some rollers for my race chair so I can train indoors throughout the Winter. This is my weakest out of the three disciplines in the triathlon, so I need to put a lot of work into this. Consequently, I would be very grateful for any help that the Trust could provide in purchasing this item of training equipment. Thank you very much in advance for any help you are able to give.