IIt was a month after the Manchester Arena attack that Martin Hibbert learned of the catastrophic toll of his injuries. He and his 14-year-old daughter, Eve, on a “dad-daughter day” at an Ariana Grande concert, stood 16 feet from the blast that killed 22 people and injured hundreds more in May 2017.
Hibbert, 45, from Chorley in Lancashire, was told he would never walk again. Eve would probably never see, hear, speak, or move, if she made it out of the hospital. They were the closest to the bomb to survive.
Nearly five years later, Hibbert describes each day as “like climbing a mountain” as they continue to recover from their injuries. However, he is preparing to tackle his biggest peak yet: in June, he will attempt to scale Mount Kilimanjaro to raise £1m for charity to help those with debilitating spinal injuries.
“The rise is to say: don’t unsubscribe me because I’m in a wheelchair. Look at what someone in a wheelchair can do with the right help and support,” he said.
Hibbert, a soccer agent, will tackle the 45-mile ascent on a custom-built handbike, using push-pull levers to navigate the often difficult terrain on Africa’s tallest mountain.
It will take about a week of grueling 12-14 hour climbs to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, where temperatures can drop as low as -20°C. If he is successful, it is believed that he will be one of the first people to reach the top with a complete spinal cord injury.
The risks are considerable. About one in three people who attempt Kilimanjaro never reach the top, according to mountaineering websites, estimating there is a 10% success rate for those in wheelchairs.
One of the biggest risks is infection, given how long you’ll be in a specially adapted chair, so a skin nurse will be among the doctors guiding you to the top. “The odds are against me, but the paramedic who saved my life didn’t think I was going to survive the trip to the hospital,” he said. “Failure is simply not an option.”
Since the explosion, Hibbert has become an ambassador for the Spine Injury Association and a motivational speaker. Far from blocking out the atrocity of the arena, he uses it to help counter his depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There are times when it gets difficult and I don’t want to get out of bed and you have to find the strength,” he said.
“I only use Salman Abedi or [the thought that] If I don’t get out of bed today, the terrorists have won. They don’t want me to sit here with you today during this interview. They don’t want me to live life to the fullest. They want me to sit in a corner crying about it.”
And he added: “If you could see what I have seen, I would finish you. To see all those people around us dead and blown up, but we have survived. That’s what gets me out of bed, because if I don’t live life to the fullest, I’m letting those 22 people and their families down.”
Hibbert has already raised nearly £400,000 of his £1 million target for the Spine Injury Association. His biggest aim, he said, was a “revolution” in the way Britain thought about disabled people.
He said he had been surprised by the lack of assistance for people in wheelchairs, for example in hotels, restaurants or movie theaters, and was horrified to learn that only a third of the estimated 2,500 people a year who sustain a spinal cord injury They were looking for a specialist. support to help them regain their independence.
“When you’re disabled, I think the public thinks you’re a Paralympic athlete or a benefits marauder. There is nothing in between,” he said. “It’s not the spinal cord injury or the wheelchair that makes me feel disabled, it’s the attitudes of the people, it’s the landscape, it’s the environment.”
Hibbert, a lifelong Manchester United fan, said he had been inspired by footballer Marcus Rashford’s successful campaign for free school meals and would lobby the government on behalf of people with life-changing injuries: “It try to change the landscape for the disabled. persons. If all we do is raise a million pounds, I’ll be disappointed. I will see it as a failure.”
When he reaches the summit, Hibbert will scatter the ashes of his mother, who died in October and was “incredibly proud,” if not overly excited, about her Kilimanjaro attempt. It will also carry a photo of “my princess” Eve, now 19, whose recovery has amazed doctors who treated her for 10 months at Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Despite the early prognosis, she can see, hear, speak and has begun to walk unassisted: “I keep telling her: when she’s ready, she’ll inspire the world.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism