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June 7th 2021

Spinal Injury

‘Kilimanjaro is my Marcus Rashford moment to start a revolution for spinal injuries’

Rachel Di Clemente

Rachel Di Clemente

Chief Executive

‘Kilimanjaro is my Marcus Rashford moment to start a revolution for spinal injuries’

Manchester Arena bombing survivor Martin Hibbert says he is taking inspiration from Marcus Rashford to raise awareness for the plight of those who suffer a spinal injury.

Manchester Arena bombing survivor Martin Hibbert says he is taking inspiration from Marcus Rashford to raise awareness for the plight of those who suffer a spinal injury.

The Manchester United and England forward’s campaign to lobby for free school meals brought the issue of starving children to the attention of the whole country.

And now Martin, who is an avid Manchester United fan, is hoping to “start a revolution” and do the same as part of his challenge to raise £1m for the Spinal Injuries Association by climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in a custom-made handbike.

During a ‘Martin Meets’ event at Hudgell Solicitors, who are supporting the Martin’s Mountain appeal by pledging to raise £100,000 for the cause, he was keen to stress this is not about him or the arena blast, which left him paralysed “from the belly button down” after suffering 22 shrapnel wounds and a severed spinal cord.

Martin, 44, from Bolton, wants to use his profile to highlight the fact that only one in three spinal injured people will get access to the best possible care in a specialist spinal cord injury unit.

“I was only six metres away from the blast. I shouldn’t be here; there is no explanation to why I survived and people 40 metres away died,” Martin said during a series of talks to staff at Hudgell Solicitors to “share his journey”.

“I do believe I’ve survived for a reason and I want to turn this into something positive. Maybe I survived to change the world as I’ve got a good story to tell. Maybe my role in this world is to make lives better for people with spinal injuries. My wife says I can’t save everybody, but I want to try.

“The vast majority of people with a spinal injury in the UK are being let down. This is what Kilimanjaro is about, it’s not about me or the arena bombing, it’s about spinal injury patients being treated as humans and when I am at the summit of Kilimanjaro and I have got everyone’s attention, that’s what I will be thinking about.

Martin Hibbert (inset) training in a handbike

“I am hoping Kilimanjaro is my Marcus Rashford moment, as I didn’t know so many kids were starving until he said it. I know the arena is an important part of my story, but I want these talks and my media appearances to be about getting that message out there that two out of three people do not get the same treatment I did. I am living proof of what can happen if you get the care you deserve.

“When people hear about that they are disgusted. I’m really glad to have you on board at Hudgell Solicitors, your support is amazing; I need as many on board as possible to get that message out there.”

Martin had just started his own football agency but had only been up and running for a few months when his life changed forever on May 22, 2017 after attending an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena with his daughter Eve.

Both were left fighting for their lives after a suicide bomb was detonated, but survived thanks to the “guardian angels” Martin says helped him – including the paramedic who went against orders to take him to a closer hospital fearing he would not make it otherwise, and the surgeon who turned back after a 12-hour shift to pick out the shrapnel from his body during a 14-hour operation.

‘Lots of people don’t reach the top, but I know all about battling against the odds’

Martin also praised the vital support of the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) and Gary Dawson, who works with the charity to help other people overcome their injuries after being left paralysed himself following a motorcycle accident.

“The Spinal Injuries Association has been just as important to me as the NHS and Gary Dawson has been a big part of that,” he added.

“To know someone from the SIA is just a phone call away, to speak to someone who knows what you are going through, you can’t put a price on that. I don’t know where I’d be without Gary and the SIA.

“The SIA saw that passion in me and I’m really honoured to have been made a trustee. I said ‘let’s try and raise a million quid’ as that is what the charity has lost due to Covid.

“I initially wanted to climb Everest but we were told I would only be able to do about 10 per cent of it, but the next highest mountain was Kilimanjaro and when people said ‘this is possible’, I just said ‘let’s do it’ and that is where Martin’s Mountain was born.

“It’s all the last year has been about, it’s been my life.”

Martin also spoke openly about the stigma around mental health and his own history of battling depression.

Anna Saunders, the head of investments and partnerships at the SIA, joined the Martin Meets session remotely and added: “On mental health, the SIA is working with the universities of Reading and Buckingham on a research project to assess existing mental health services for spinal cord injured people, identify gaps and develop and pilot new services and models to address those gaps.

“Anyone can be referred to SIA’s services, which are free of charge to service users in terms of our support line, nurse service and peer support service.”

Martin Hibbert taking questions from staff at Hudgell Solicitors during the ‘Martin Meets’ event

Over 70 staff members at Hudgell Solicitors joined the ‘Martin Meets’ talks either in person at its Manchester office or remotely and all spoke about how “inspirational” it was listening to Martin’s story and passion for the work of the SIA.

As part of the pledge to raise £100,000, staff have already started their own challenges, which started with head of travel litigation Paul McClorry being joined by colleague Tracy Stansfield to run the Goggins Challenge of running four miles, every four hours for 48 hours – and exceeding his £2,000 target.

Other challenges will centre around the theme of 19 – as Kilimanjaro is 19,000ft. These include staff running 1.9 miles every hour for 19 hours; doing a 19-hour spinathon; 19,000 squats over 19 days; and a 19 hot chicken wings challenge.

Rachel Di Clemente, chief executive of Hudgell Solicitors, said: “It was a privilege to welcome Martin to our offices and hear his inspiring story.

“Martin is aiming to do something most people would assume was impossible for someone with a spinal injury; it’s quite a gigantic challenge that matches his own bravery and passion to make a difference.

“We will be doing everything we can to support him, including taking on some of our own challenges to help raise £100,000 towards his target.”

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