Paralysed Claire swaps one horsepower for more in motorbike racing bid
A former horse rider who was paralysed following a devastating accident is getting back in the saddle - as she bids for a licence to race motorbikes.
Claire Lomas was left with no sensation from the chest down after her horse Rolled Oats hit a tree in 2007 and she fell, leaving her with a damaged spinal cord and fractures to her neck, back and ribs.
Since then she has raised more than £500,000 by completing charity challenges including walking the London Marathon in a bionic suit over two weeks and a 400-mile (644km) hand cycle ride.
Her latest endeavour has seen her swap a former love of one horsepower for several more as she aims to be completing track days on a motorcycle before the year is out.
Learning to ride has presented a number of challenges for the 35-year-old, who is unable to move her lower body and finds it hard to shift her core weight around.
And then there is the problem of "flappy" legs.
She said: "There are a few adaptations on the bike including a bit of Velcro to stop my legs from moving and being flappy.
"It can't be too grippy though because if you fall off - and that will happen - it needs to come free, otherwise you'll be stuck to the bike, which is pretty dangerous."
After a tentative start - which saw her ride a motorbike with stabilisers in a straight line for a couple of hours - she now regularly heads to Mallory Park in Leicestershire to improve her technique.
She said: "You would just never know I was paralysed when you see me on the bike going around.
"It just gets you away from the paralysis.
"I don't really think about being paralysed much because I'm busy, but I came from a sport that was high adrenaline and this is similar.
"It's still horsepower, just a different kind. From one horsepower to a lot more.
"I'm really grateful to Mallory.There's no way I could do this on a public road, I'd have to find one that was dead straight, no police cars, no other traffic."
Charity The Bike Experience gave Ms Lomas her first taste of riding last April and is supporting her as she aims to get an ACU licence which will allow her to take part in track days.
Until now, she has been borrowing her husband Dan Spicer's Honda 600CBR bike - but bought one of her own a few weeks ago from a private seller.
Recalling the moment Ms Lomas, of Eye Kettleby in Leicestershire, met the seller and he realised she was paralysed, she said: "I get out and into my wheelchair and this guy must have been thinking 'What is going on here? Where's the hidden camera?'
"It was a pretty big bike and I have no idea what was running through this guy's mind. It's pretty funny really."
The new ride - a Suzuki SV650 - will be fitted with an adapted gear shifter which means it can be controlled with her left hand.
And apart from needing the assistance of someone to hold the bike steady before she pulls off, and someone to catch her when she comes in, she is like any other rider out on the track.
One of her team of helpers, Andy Elliott from The Bike Experience, said: "Considering she had never ridden a bike before, she's very good.
"Obviously it's totally different because she hasn't experienced a bike before and you can really see the difference from when she first started to what she is doing now."
Ms Lomas said: "I just like taking opportunities because you never know where they will lead.
"I just thought it would be a one-off go, I wasn't looking for something to fill a gap.
"Now I've got the bug. It's because I've enjoyed it that I'm still doing it, and I love the thought of getting better at it."
Following a few more laps on a cold January morning at the Leicestershire track, she is ready to call it a day.
After being helped off the bike and into her wheelchair and riding back to the pits, she said: "I was pretending to be (Valentino) Rossi for a bit there with my head down - but then I realised I was only going 80mph, not 200. Still, one day..."
:: Ms Lomas is holding a charity Ride Out from Eye Kettleby on May 14 to raise money for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation and The Bike Experience. For more information, visit www.claireschallenge.co.uk