Stewart's gruelling challenge is given some Golden backing
THE top race at the International meeting will highlight the remarkable story of a man who was told he would never walk again but is now ready to embark on a gruelling physical challenge.
Paul Stewart, son of the owner of the brilliant Big Buck's, Andy Stewart, sustained a severe spinal injury in a snowboarding accident in the Alps four years ago and was paralysed from the waist down.
He is still suffering the effects on his injuries but it won't prevent him from taking part in extraordinary display of spirit and determination next year to raise money for two charities close to his heart.
To help highlight the cause, Saturday's big race at Prestbury Park will be run as the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup.
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Stewart said: "From the day of my accident, I always said to myself I would, at some stage in the future, do a big challenge for charity – Spinal Research and Wings for Life being for me the obvious beneficiaries – as I want to make a difference to people with this terrible condition and the way the world looks at it.
"I feel the time has come and so have put some brilliant people together and we plan to tell my story backwards via an Ironman/Quadathalon-style challenge.
"I am going to trace my steps back from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where I spent six months, to the 200ft cliff that I fell off, adding in a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile cycle ride and a marathon.
"I will then fly to France and rock climb up the mountain that originally broke me.
"The route is still being finalised but I plan to do the swim at the Guttmann Centre next to Stoke Mandeville hospital.
"The cycle ride will be on a three-wheel trike, covering approximately 18 miles a day from there to London, and the walk will be on my sticks, covering roughly seven miles a day in and around London.
"Trainers are thinking this is the equivalent of an able-bodied person doing the full Ironman distance.
"For instance, with the walk, it would be the equivalent of an able-bodied person doing four marathons back to back.
"I will be getting many celebrities involved along the way, the idea being that they attempt parts of the challenge as if they were not able-bodied, using a hand cycle, for example, or doing the walk in a wheelchair.
"I know the charities, particularly Wings for Life with their Red Bull and F1 connections, will make sure we get plenty of publicity.
"Hopefully, this will pique everyone's interest and keep us in the news.
"Additionally, we hope to have other documentary and TV coverage as the challenge progresses, which will get the message out to more people to raise awareness and vital funding."
Stewart wasn't happy to accept medical opinion when he was told he would never walk again after the accident which changed his life.
He set about proving them wrong through hard work and determination and went on to achieve qualifying times to swim at the London 2012 Paralympics.
"I am and have always been a very keen sports fan," said Stewart.
"I represented the England Hockey Under-18 team and went to Loughborough University to study sports.
"It's fair to say that sport is my life. One of my passions was always snow sports and in December, 2008, while snowboarding in the Alps, I was caught in an avalanche and fell 200ft, sustaining an spinal cord injury.
"I was 27 years old. I was told at that time that I would never walk again but I now get around the majority of the time with two walking sticks and leg braces, such was my determination to get 'back on my feet'.
"I am still completely paralysed below the knee, have limited glutes and have compensated for the lack of hamstrings by building up other muscles to ten times their normal strength.
"So I walk mainly using my quads and hip flexors to the amazement of clinicians.
"I achieved my first goal but I could not be satisfied with 'just walking'.
"Earlier this year, I was in training and achieved the qualifying times for the London Paralympics S6 category, being one of the first people to swim in the Olympic pool.
"Unfortunately, the IPC then moved me to S7 category, saying I had achieved too much in a short space of time.
"So I didn't make London 2012, although I was honoured to carry the Olympic Torch in July."
Cheltenham Racecourse bosses are pleased to support the Stewart family in their efforts to raise money for charity by renaming the race.
Peter McNeile, Cheltenham's head of sponsorship, said: "This race title reflects the latest remarkable fundraising challenge by an equally remarkable man.
"Paul Stewart is an inspiration to us all."
The Stewart family have won Saturday's race twice, with Poquelin in 2009 and 2010.
They sponsored the big race to raise the profile of Spinal Research last year.
For more information about Spinal Research, visit www.spinal-research.org.
For more information about Wings for Life, visit www.wingsforlife.com/en.