Paul Stewart climbed the mountain that left him paralysed.
A wheelchair tennis player from Chelsea has set his sights on Rio 2016 after revisiting the mountain which left him paralysed.
Paul Stewart, 32, climbed to the top of La Plagne in the French Alps, the summit from which he fell 200ft in a snowboarding accident in December 2008.
The climb was the culmination of a 15-day, 140-mile Iron Spine Challenge, a gruelling journey which combine swimming, walking and cycling – attempting to tell his story backwards by starting in a pool at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and ending in the French Alps.
His success convinced him he could qualify for Rio, despite only starting to play competitively two years ago.
“My challenge was a big success and one I can’t quite believe I completed if I’m honest,” said Stewart.
“I didn’t know how I would feel returning to the mountain and it was tough to go back there, but reaching the summit was such an incredible achievement and one I will never forget.”
Stewart, who receives funding from the Tennis Foundation, acknowledges that history shows most wheelchair tennis players take around six years before they make it to a Paralympic Games.
“Completing my challenge was a huge inspiration for me and has made me think, ‘why not?’, if I can do that then anything else seems do-able in comparison,” he said.
“Wheelchair tennis is so competitive – to be in the Paralympics you have to be in the top four guys in the country so it’s an incredibly hard task, especially when I’m coming into the sport so much later than some of my competitors.”
At July’s British Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships Stewart demonstrated his enormous potential, making it past the first round before putting up a spirited performance as he went down to world no.1 Maikel Scheffers.
At the competition he was presented with the Best Newcomer award for 2012, and now admits he has designs on breaking into the sport’s top ten.
“To win that award was really nice for me; it showed me that I had come a long way but that I’m capable of improving quickly,” he said.
“I want to be heading towards the top end of those rankings as that’s where I need to be if I want to go to Rio, and battling so well with Scheffers showed me that I have the potential.”
Follow us @SW_Londoner