Paralyzed Woman Finishes London Marathon

With help from bionic suit, Londoner enters grueling race.

ByABC News
May 8, 2012, 2:32 PM

LONDON, May 8, 2012— -- For five years, Claire Lomas hasn't been able to walk, hasn't been able to feel her legs. But that hasn't stopped her.

She was once a professional horse rider, her blond hair flowing underneath her white riding cap. But in 2007, a freak accident paralyzed her from the chest down.

She spent all her time in a wheelchair, at least until January. That's when she started walking again, thanks to a $75,000 bionic suit.

"It's amazing after five years of sitting down to be back on my feet," she said earlier this year, "and it's fully weight-bearing and I can walk in it as well."

Each time she steps forward, her suit hisses a sound not dissimilar to Robocop. The ReWalk and two canes support her, and the suit senses when she wants to walk and shifts her weight for her. But it's not easy. Each day, when she started, she could take only 30 steps. Every moment was a chore, and because she couldn't feel where she standing, she always feared falling over.

But that didn't stop her, either. Lomas set out to walk 55,000 steps – or 26.2 miles. She set out to run the London Marathon.

She started, alongside 35,000 runners, 16 days ago. Today, in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, she finished -- to the screams of thousands of fans who came out to support her.

"It's a moment I'm going to treasure for the rest of my life," she said in a nationally televised, live interview with the BBC after she crossed. "The support here has been – I didn't expect it here like this. I couldn't believe it when I turned up this morning in the taxi to start, and I thought it was just a busy day in London. Someone told me they're all there for me. I was like, no!"

But they all were there for her, inspired by her determination to finish the race, inspired by her becoming the first woman in a robotic suit to complete a marathon, inspired by her ability to, as she told ABC News today, "just keep persevering."

Thanks to all her fans, Loman raised more than $100,000 for spinal cord research. In the interview with ABC News, she said she felt lucky -- despite her accident.

"After my accident, for a few days, you think, why, why has this happened? But it has. And that's that. You just need to find new things to do," she said while on her way to a party in her honor. "Of course I have bad days and difficult times. But I just get through them, and gradually, things get better."

A lot better. And that is, perhaps, the most extraordinary part of the story. Today is not the most important day of Lomas' life. It's not even the most important day since the accident.

In the last three years, Claire Lomas has gotten married and given birth to a healthy baby girl. Mazie is 15 months old, and was right there as Lomas crossed the finish line.

"We're having a bit of a competition to see who can walk first," she joked with the BBC in February. "We're about level at the moment. But young veins learn quicker, so I'm not sure whether she's going to overtake me soon!"

And her husband Dan was there every step of the way, helping support the suit – and her.

"Some days were more difficult than others. Yesterday particularly was tough. Felt really tired. I didn't have a great yesterday, and I knew if I stopped, I wouldn't want to get going again," she told ABC News. "But with all the support, it just helped me carry on."

And in many ways, Lomas was carrying on, even from the days before her accident. She's always thrived on difficult tasks. The last 16 days, she suggested, was just what she loves to do.

"Before my accident, I'd always had a lot of challenges," she said. "I'm that type of person. It doesn't change who you are, when you have a spinal injury and you still want to push yourself."