Episode 21

Claire Danson: I knew I was paralysed

Claire Danson was on the cusp of becoming a professional triathlete, when a routine bike ride would change her life forever. In June 2019, Claire was crowned European Age Group champion (30-34). Just two months later, Claire was fighting for her life after colliding with a tractor whilst out cycling. The accident left her paralysed from her tummy button downwards.  

You'll hear:

*Claire talk about how the accident has changed her life for ever,

*About the emotional rollercoaster Claire has been on over the past 7 months

*How it's changed the relationship with her sister, Hockey player Alex Danson

*Why she feels positive about the future

Plus hear the ups and down from David McNamee, who is spending a 4th week on lockdown in his apartment in Girona. If you can help source any swim cords please get in touch with David or I!

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Find out more about Claire Danson

Claire Danson fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/claire-danson

Claire Danson Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cdanson10/?hl=en


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Huge thanks Sports Tours International or Sports Travel International if you’re in Ireland, for their on-going support, despite the challenging times at the moment.  As official travel partner for Europe Sports Tours International have been given permission by the Challenge Roth organisers to go on sale with their packages which give you the option to purchase a guaranteed entry for 2021 Challenge Roth. They’ve reduced the travel package deposit, equating to a 25% reduction of the usual deposit. Find out more about securing your place at Roth 2021 here.

Oryon Connect is a free introductions service, so if you’re injured or struggling with pain, they’ll connect you with top healthcare practitioners in London. Oryon have put extra strict safety measures in place and continue to stay open during the Coronavirus pandemic and all 3 of their services are available. Most of their partners continue to help customers and offer video or phone consultations. It may be difficult to get an appointment to see a specialist now, so if you are struggling then get in touch with Oryon and they will do what they can to help. Visit their website to find out more.


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Interview timeline (this is the interview, not the whole show)

Claire talks about recently leaving hospital following her spinal cord injury and that the decision was quite a sudden one. “I had thought it would be really tricky and the lack of 24/7 care being taken away, but my sister and brother in law have been amazing. To know that you can cope on your own is the best thing. So in terms of my self-worth, that’s huge. To have got to the point that where I don’t need anyone to do anything for me is brilliant. When the accident happened, I couldn’t do anything for myself but now I can and it’s just the best feeling.

4.00 Claire talks about how her life changed 7 months ago.

I was out on my bike, like I was every day and I came around a corner and there was a tractor there but I couldn’t do anything about it. Stuart, a family friend, was the first person on the scene. He is a retired anaesthetist and called the air Ambulance. I think they had to revive me a few times on the day. Apparently I was conscious the whole way and talking. When I got to Southampton, they sedated me and then I don’t remember much else for the next few days. Then they put me on a ventilator for a few days. When you are on a ventilator you can’t talk. I remember knowing that I was paralysed, but not quite processing it. I remember that my arm was badly damaged and I remember thinking if my legs aren’t going to be in a good way, I need my arm

8.45 I just knew I was paralysed. The only way I could communicate people was with a letter board and by spelling out words. I spelt out to my sister “I need a good surgeon.” But he has been the most amazing man and he has gone above and beyond and did such a brilliant job. I think he related to the fact that I needed my arm to work and to be able to exercise.

1130 One of the second things I spelt out was para athlete. I knew I was paralysed and I knew straight away that didn’t matter as long as I could do some sort of Para sport. Communication, para sport, dedication, hard work and enjoyment is so important.

13.00 I’ve been through a real multitude of emotions and they have changed, but they have changed for the better. Initially in intensive care, there were no emotions, it was just about staying alive and getting through that period. When I moved to the general spine unit in Southampton, I still don’t think I quite understood the gravity of it. When I got transferred to the spinal unit in Salisbury, that’s when I really started to struggle mentally with the impact that his had had. I’d get quite upset and I didn’t like people to see it, so I would get upset a lot on my own when I was in my bed and things, because you almost grieve for everything you have lost.  It feels like a huge sense of loss. You can’t do the things you love, I couldn’t run, I couldn't swim, there was so much I couldn’t do. I couldn’t shower for myself, I couldn't get out of bed, It makes you feel “gosh, I’m going to have to look after myself for ever” and you lose that independence and it feels like such an enormous thing at first. It’s a feeling of almost a bit desperate at times. I had a big fear that people would forget me and they would just carry on. As I moved on, crying in the mornings became a lot less, I was being able to do more and it’s the improvement in your situation that helps and now I do feel happier. 

19.00 Talks about being inspired by other people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. I see my spinal cord injury as a challenge and I can still achieve things within the limits.

20.15 Talks about worrying less about things “It puts a perspective on things.”

21.30 I think I have a deep down belief that everything will be ok. You’ll go through difficult times in life, but you will come out the other end if you just keep going.   It’s when you give up then maybe things won’t get better and if things aren’t ok, you’re not at the end yet.

22.30 Everyone gets moments when they think it wont be ok and I think I am good at using the support network I have. In those moments, when I wasn’t sure if it would be ok, I would talk to people. It’s about knowing how to deal with those moments when you are working.

24.00 Talks about her close family bond and her close relationship with her sister and how Claire’s accident followed he sister having a head injury. My friends have been superb. That contact with the outside world when you are in hospital helps you get through it.

26.30 Claire says that she has had messages of support from around the world. “The messages I get when people say I have helped them, they are the ones that mean so much to me because it feels like I am able to help other people after my accident.“

29.00 Claire tells the story about getting back into the pool for the first time. “I still had the neck brace on, but I was able to swim on my back with that on. It was incredible, it was so freeing. It was such a great place to be. I swam with a snorkel and then I swam without my snorkel. I got up to swimming 1.7km before I left.

31.00 Claire explains doing a 10km race and a 5km race “I got to be back in that environment again and it was incredible. 

32.30 After I came out of intensive care, my arms needed a lot of work, I couldn’t move any of my arms. I couldn’t even bend my right fingers at first. Now I can lift myself out of my chair, which I couldn’t do at first. I still have a long way to go.

33.30 Using a hand bike. It’s the best thing ever. It’s amazing. One of the things I was worried about was whether I would be able to get my heart rate up, but it certainly does. So I am doing a bit of time on the hand bike and I go outside in my wheelchair and I am doing gym work too.

35.30 Her thoughts on potentially competing at the Paris Paralympics in 2024.

36.00 How she is inspired by Lauren Parker, who had a similar accident.

37.30 I can handle difficult situations a lot better than I realised. I have a huge amount of perseverance to just carry on and keep going, no matter what.

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About the Podcast

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Inside Tri Show
Helen Murray brings you awesome interviews from triathlon and beyond

About your host

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Helen Murray

Helen has been working in triathlon for a decade as an athlete, coach and broadcaster.

Helen hosts the Inside Tri Show podcast bringing you awesome interviews from triathlon and beyond