Tears as bionic Claire finishes epic marathon after 16 days
It was only after 26 miles and 384 yards that the tears finally came. For more than a fortnight Claire Lomas had done a remarkable job of keeping it together, singularly focused on her goal of reaching the finishing line of the London Marathon.
But as she took her final step yesterday afternoon, backed by the cheers of hundreds of supporters and a remarkable piece of engineering, there seemed little need to hold her emotions back any longer.
After 16 days of sheer determination the 32-year-old jewellery designer from Leicestershire became the first disabled person to complete a marathon upright in a robotic suit. "It's amazing," she said, sobbing and beaming at the same time. "I've been wanting to get out of a wheelchair for the past five years. Now I'm just happy to sit down."
The former show jumper thought she would never walk again when she was paralysed from the chest down in 2007 after being thrown from her horse during a competition.
Yesterday she completed the last leg of an extraordinary odyssey that inspired hundreds of well-wishers to accompany her along the way and has so far raised £91,000 (€113,000) for Spinal Research.
Ms Lomas's feat was made possible by a £43,000 (€53,000) bionic suit which propelled her legs forward by detecting shifts in her balance. The suit is currently in the testing stages.
News of her plan to walk the marathon with her husband, Dan Spicer, and their one-year-old daughter, Maisie, prompted an outpouring of public support. Celebrities and strangers joined the family for parts of their journey through the capital.
That support increased when it emerged that the organisers of the marathon would not award her a finisher's medal because only those who complete the marathon before 6pm on the day of the race qualify.
But fellow marathon runners responded in their own way by handing her their own medals in a varnished wooden box.
Ms Lomas, meanwhile, showed no anger towards the race organisers. "I was never doing this for a medal, I was doing it to raise money for Spinal Research," she said, clutching her box of medals. "But to have been given all these is just the icing on the cake."
Designed by an Israeli entrepreneur, Amit Goffer, who is paralysed, the ReWalk suit was designed for individuals with spinal cord injuries and other walking impairments.
It uses motion sensors and an onboard computer system to enable people to stand and walk. Those who have used it have described the psychological boost they experience when they are able to stand face-to-face with other people after years of being in a wheelchair.
"When I use the ReWalk I feel like I am maintaining my body. It is like taking a car to the garage. It feels great," said Radi Kaiuf, a ReWalk evaluator.