Scots Kilimanjaro climber defies spinal injury

A SCOTTISH woman who was told she may never walk again following a horse riding accident is set to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with the surgeon who treated her to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries.

Gillian Fowler at Lochnagar in 2014 after climbing the munro, despite suffering serious spinal cord injuries

Gillian Fowler, 37, was fit and healthy but her life changed forever following a riding accident in her hometown of Aberdeen.

In hospital doctors explained she had broken her back and perhaps her neck, telling her she should prepare for the possiblythat she would not be able to walk again.

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But after seven risky operations, regular spinal injections and years of physiotherapy she managed to slowly recover.

Last year she climbed Ben Nevis with the help from her husband and in February next year will take on Africa’s tallest mountain alongside the surgeon and physio who treated her.

Mrs Fowler said: “I started horse riding when I was nine and all through my teens.

“I went riding when I was 30 and something happened that meant unfortunately my life would never be the same again. I have no memory of the accident but I remember it was a gorgeous blue skied day. I can remember my horse going in to a canter and then next thing I knew I woke up lying on the ground. I knew I was in a bad way as I was in so much pain.”

After being discovered by other riders in her group, she was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

“I was in by myself for hours getting lots of tests done when a doctor came to speak to me and took my hands. He told me I had broken my back and they suspected I had also broken my neck.”

Mrs Fowler was told to prepare for the possibility she would never walk again.

“Two days later the doctors could finally tell me that I had not broken my neck, which would have meant instant severe paralysis.

“They took my parents aside and asked ‘is she a fighter? because if she doesn’t put up a fight then she will end up in a wheelchair’. “They said I was, and without having a positive mental attitude I wouldn’t have been able to recover.”

Mrs Fowler spent weeks in hospital in a full body cast and had many operations, as well as years of physiotherapy but last year she climbed Ben Nevis with the help of her husband.

She will climb Mount Kilimanjaro and take on the Annapurna trail in Nepal to raise money for spinal cord injury charities.

She has also started her own business Backstrong Adventures to help other people who have suffered from physical or mental impairment to take on challenges around the world.

She explained: “I always write down all the plans I have for my future in my diary. Even though I live with chronic pain I always have something to look forward to. Having a positive attitude and taking on challenges has helped to get me through.

“I was always very sporty, but after my accident I felt that my outdoor life had been taken away from me. Climbing Ben Nevis felt like I had turned it around, after six years, it was such a huge turning point.

“Backstrong Adventures is a venture to help others to believe in themselves, saying it’s going to get better, set your goals and you can do anything, don’t give up.”