A Pembrokeshire woman has achieved a world-first, as the first paralysed person to complete a cross channel relay swim without wearing a wetsuit.

Paula Craig MBE was part of a six-strong relay team to swim the English Channel in aid of spinal injury charity, Aspire.

Paula, who was born and raised in Fishguard, swam in one hour shifts, resting while her other team members took their turn.

The team, named the Aspire Mutts after Paula’s cockerpoo swam the 22-mile English Channel relay swim in 14 hours and three minutes with Paula taking on two hour-long swims.

The National Wales: The Aspire Mutts in Dover before the team set off to swim the ChannelThe Aspire Mutts in Dover before the team set off to swim the Channel

Her team mates said that it was her bravery and incredible core strength that got her through the challenge.

Paula, a former detective inspector in the Met’s serious crime team, was left paralysed and in a wheelchair after a road accident in May 2001, when she was knocked from her bike while training for a triathlon.

After her accident she was determined to continue her sporting activities and within a year she completed the 2002 London Marathon in two hours 48 minutes, making her the only person to have run and pushed the London Marathon.

She has also competed as a wheelchair triathlete at an international level.

The National Wales: Paula on the boat between swimsPaula on the boat between swims

When a bone infection prevented her from competing as a wheelchair athlete Paula intensified her swimming training.

Her achievement yesterday, August 4, makes her the first person with a complete spinal injury to swim the Channel without a wetsuit.

“I’m exhausted but relieved and excited that we made it to France,” said Paula after completing the epic challenge.

“The rest of the team were incredible, supporting me all the way and helping me get back onto the boat after my swims.

The National Wales: Paula getting back onto the boat after one of her two hour-long stints in the ChannelPaula getting back onto the boat after one of her two hour-long stints in the Channel

“I support Aspire whenever I can because the charity is the reason I am where I am today, in terms of both my physical and mental wellbeing.

“Their support since I was paralysed by a spinal cord injury has included providing me with accessible accommodation after my discharge from hospital which enabled me to return to work within a year of my accident.

“Their fully inclusive facilities at the Aspire Leisure Centre enabled me to return to sport and, in turn, to start living life to the full again.”

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Paula retired from the Met in 2017 and now works as a motivational speaker, inspiring school children and groups with tales of her life experiences and raising awareness of the transformative work of Aspire, which supported her after the accident and provided adapted accommodation.

“Paula was our sixth swimmer and was quite happy to roll off the back of the boat into the murky water,” said Paul Parrish, Aspire’s director of fundraising and marketing and one of the Aspire Mutts team.

“She has a T12 full spinal break so her legs should drag in the water, but she somehow manages to use her core strength to prevent this and is able to swim long distances without them sinking.

“That is remarkable, but it’s her bravery that always stands out; she is unable to tread water or get out of the Channel quickly.

The National Wales: Paula and her team had to devise a special way to get her back onto the boatPaula and her team had to devise a special way to get her back onto the boat

“She has to rely on her team, and we had devised a system to get her safely back on the boat using a spinal board. It wasn’t easy for her, but the system worked, and we could carry out slick swimmer change overs.”

Brian Carlin, Aspire’s CEO added, “Paula Craig MBE has been a fantastic ambassador for Aspire for many years, speaking in schools and at our Sports Quiz Dinners and fundraising by taking on challenges such as the London Marathon and swimming the Solent.

“We are extremely grateful for everything she has done to support Aspire over the past 20 years and the £23,000 she has raised through her Relay Channel Swim will enable us to support other people who have been paralysed by spinal cord injury.”

To sponsor Paula visit: www.justgiving.com/paulacraig