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Towering challenge awaits for injured Royal Marine cyclist

A serving Royal Marines Officer from Winchester is about to embark on one of the greatest charity cycle rides of his lifetime following a near-fatal accident last summer.

Major Paul Spanner, Royal Marine comments: “Last July my brother and I went on a routine bike ride in preparation for a British Heart Foundation ride we were due to take part in. The conditions were dry and our bikes were prepped with dry tires. Part way through the ride it started raining and the roads got very slippery. We were cycling through the South Downs quite close to Goodwood when we started down a steep hill.

“We must have been going about 45mph when we realised we were going too fast and started to slow down. We came to a 90 degree corner when I lost traction, came off the road and went head first into a pillar at 33mph (this speed was actually recorded on my tracker).

“Initially I thought I had just been winded, nothing too serious. My brother Ian is a serving Royal Navy submariner and had just done some first aid training. He managed to stabilise me and called 999 for help. If it hadn’t been for Ian and my cycling helmet, I would have bled out and wouldn’t be here today.

“The accident happened in a remote area and when the ambulance arrived they had to call immediately for a trauma doctor. The air ambulance was placed on standby but there was tree cover overhead and steep slopes so it could not be deployed. Once stabilised I was taken to Chichester Hospital where I found the extent of my injuries was more than I’d initially thought – I’d fractured my skull, broken my back in six places, plus ripped several of my fingers open.

“At Chichester they did everything they could to stabilise me and they mended by hands so I can use them now and easily change the gears on my bike. They don’t have specialist spinal surgeons at Chichester so they had to do video conference with surgeons at Southampton General Hospital. 48 hours later I was then transferred to Southampton where I had immediate spinal surgery to repair the C3 – C4 spinal discs as if they slipped, I could have been left as a paraplegic.

“It was amazing - only nine hours after the spinal surgery I was walking again and I got back on my bike about six weeks. At this point my friends and I were discussing what we would do next. We had heard about others doing London to Paris and the concept grew from there. Where we differ from others doing this challenge is that we hope to complete it in around 40 hours, whereas the norm is 3-4 days.

“We chose Goodwood to do a media launch on 28 April 2014, as Lady March is a patron of Chichester Hospital, plus the fact the incident took place close to Goodwood. I wanted an iconic venue of things that usually travel fast. I know that they are more used to seeing F1 cars around the Goodwood circuit but some of our carbon racing bikes are the equivalent in bike terms!

“We are nearly ready for this challenge now. We have been doing 100 mile bike rides quite regularly and average 15-20mph. In total 20 riders will be doing the challenge, with eight people supporting us. This includes members of the team from all three military groups, plus some civilians.  Every one of the riders has their own personal story linking to one of the chosen charities - the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, Chichester Hospital, Southampton Hospital Charity (neurological unit), and the British Heart Foundation.

“You prepare yourself for difficult circumstances when you deploy in the military, but not when you do everyday things like riding a bike. My accident came as such a shock and it made me realise that it doesn’t matter who you are, fate can turn your world upside down so quickly.

“I am so thankful for the organisations who rebuilt me and put me back together. You have meant I can keep doing the things I love – cycling and skiing! Almost a year after my accident, I will shortly be returning to work which I am looking forward to.

“I can’t thank the medical teams enough for what they did - I am still in regular contact with the surgeons from both hospitals. We have had great backing and support from all of the charities we are raising money for. I am glad our donation will help allow them to do what the do for others like me.”

More information can be found on their website: www.thetowerschallenge.com

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