The Inspiration: Major Phil Packer
Thirteen days afterthe London Marathon 2009, the crowds were still cheering as Major Phil Packer crossed the finish line. This was just a year after he had been told he would never walk again.
Packer, a commanding officer of the Royal Military Police, had been driving on the army base in Basra in February 2008, when a mortar alarm sounded. The major leapt out of his 4x4 vehicle to take cover. In the chaos, the vehicle rolled over him, bruising his heart, breaking his ribs and injuring the base of his spine. He faced a gruelling year of rehabilitation.
At the army's treatment centre at Headley Court in Surrey, soldiers are encouraged to rest completely between bouts of rehab. But Packer refused to sit quietly. Instead, he set himself the target of raising a million pounds for the charity Help for Heroes, through several high-profile challenges - one of which was the London Marathon. It was a way to fill what the 38-year-old called the "huge void" in his life.
His defiance and determination grabbed the attention of the world's media - and the respect of Runner's World readers - who voted overwhelmingly for Packer as their Jane Tomlinson Inspiration Award winner of 2010.
"I'm delighted - and quite shocked - to have received this recognition from the running community," says Packer. "I had initially planned to do the race in a wheelchair, so I also have to be very grateful that the London Marathon organisers took this chance on me as my mobility improved."
Just a month after Packer started using crutches, he lined up with the rest of the crowd, on April 26. He walked exactly two miles a day - the maximum distance his doctors would allow. His tactic was to walk as quickly as possible for one mile in the early morning, so he could rest and recover during the hottest part of the day, before doing the final mile in the evening. He admits that he found it tough going: "It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. My shoulders, arms and lower back hurt because of my crutches and the fact I wasn't used to standing up so much."
Packer relied on daily stretches and physiotherapy four nights a week. Under the full glare of the media spotlight, he was also acutely aware that the public were watching and willing him on. He admits that this newfound fame was "initially very difficult. It was strange to get so much attention and exposure".
Yet having raised £1.6m for Help for Heroes, Packer adopted a quotation from George Eliot as his raison d'être: "What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for others?" This was why Packer is tackling the London Marathon again this year, aiming to do the 26.2 miles in exactly 26 hours, to raise funds for 26 different charities including the NSPCC and Great Ormond Street Hospital. Packer will walk every mile alongside a representative from one of his charities.
The race also helped to publicise Packer's British Inspiration Trust, a new charitable foundation to help young people suffering from disability. Why the focus on youth? "I was 36 when I was injured - if I'd been 16 I think I would have found it very much more difficult to cope, " Packer says. "There's the challenge of dealing with a disability itself, but at that age you have additional factors to consider: benefits, support, accommodation, further education and relationships.
"I benefited from having a strong infrastructure of support around me, from my family to my employer. Now I want to provide that for others."
For more information on Major Packer's rehabilitation, race efforts and fundraising, visit: www.philpacker.com.