CHAMPION athlete James Cracknell has hailed the achievements of “phenomenal” people like South Tyneside disability campaigner Paul Belk.
The double Olympic gold rower is vice-president of the brain injury charity Headway, which supported him and his family when he suffered a near-fatal accident while cycling through Arizona in 2010.
He suffered bruising to his brain after a truck hit his bike, and his life changed dramatically.
Paul, 28, from Harton, South Shields, also suffered a life-shattering brain injury, when his drink was spiked during a back-packing trip to Thailand in 2005.
After battling back from the brink of death, he now lives independently, has started work and helped establish the Chase Park Festival, an accessible music event at the rehabilitation centre which aided his recovery.
Paul met James at the Headway Annual Awards, where he was presented with a certificate after being shortlisted for campaigner of the year.
Although he missed out on the title, he was delighted to make it to the final three.
He said: “I wasn’t expecting to win anything – it was just an honour to be nominated.”
Paul, a part-time business administration apprentice for the NHS, was put forward by Claire Tritton, a community development officer for Headway Gateshead and South Tyneside.
She said: “Paul has managed to use his own experience to raise awareness of brain injury, highlighting in the local and national press the value of specialist neurological rehabilitation, and help organise fully-accessible music festivals.”
Paul’s injury put him in a coma and left him paralysed and unable to talk.
His recovery has been a slow and painstaking process, but he has regained some movement in his legs and his ultimate aim is to walk again.
He travelled to the awards luncheon at The Dorchester in London with his parents, David and Carol, who have been behind him all the way.
He lost out to the parents of a young man who had been killed with a severe brain injury, who had raised £23,000 for Headway in his memory.
Writing on his Twitter account after the awards, James said: “Just leaving Headway UK Annual Awards, a room full of phenomenal people; brain injury sufferers, loved ones, fundraisers and carers.”