Manchester Arena survivor from Chorley determined to defy his paralysis on £1m Kilimanjaro mission
“Don’t tell me I can’t do something”.
That’s the mentality driving Martin Hibbert on after being paralysed from the waist down in the Manchester Arena bombing, and what will drive him up Mount Kilimanjaro in September.
The 44-year-old from Heath Charnock, near Chorley, is preparing to climb Africa’s highest mountain on a custom-built hand-cranked bike.
With the support of the nation and some celebrity friends, he aims to raise £1m for the Spinal Injuries Association after learning only one in three people with spinal cord injuries receive treatment at specialist centres.
He said: “I want to turn an appalling act of terror into a force for greater good.”
Martin, a football agent, and his teenage daughter Eve were among the hundreds injured in the terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert in May 22 2017.
At 10m away, Martin was the closest person to the arena bomber, Salman Abedi, to survive the blast, and his injuries were described as the equivalent of ‘being shot 22 times at point blank range’.
He spent months rehabilitating in the Southport Spinal Injuries Centre as well as undergoing radical treatment in Queensland, Australia, and in 2019 became a trustee of the Spinal Injuries Association. It was this appointment which made him aware of inequalities in care.
He said: “I always thought in this country, that if you became ill or were hurt, then you’d go to hospital and then you’d be seen at a specialist unit.
“But it was only when I became a trustee that I realised this isn’t the case for people with spinal injuries.
“I saw that two out of every three people with spinal cord injuries are sent home from hospital to inaccessible houses.
“If you talk about lockdown, then it’s no different for them, they’ve been locked down for 10 years or more.”
He added: “So this is what the Kilimanjaro thing is all about, it’s about investing in people, showing what can be achieved by people with disabilities.
“We still have a lot of give society, so if the money is put into supporting people properly, then they can get back into work and they can contribute.”
Martin aims to take on the trek in September as part of a team of 10, including medics, Rob Grew, who ran into the Manchester Arena immediately after the explosion to offer help, and Stuart Wildman, the head nurse at the Major Trauma Centre at Salford Royal who treated Martin when he was admitted after his injury.
He said: “To do it with those two people is going to be amazing and I think there will be a lot of tears.”
They will be taking the northern route up the mountain, which still takes in forests, snow and boulders, but is more passable for the bike.
When the bike is ready, Martin will be taking it on practice runs in Wales, the Lake District and to a specialist training centre at the Etihad in Manchester.
“At first I wanted to do Everest, which tells you a little bit about where my mind is”, said Martin. “But it soon became apparent that there were too many health and safety risks”.
He added: “I asked whether I’d need to work on bulking up my arms, but I’ve been told not to. Some days are going to be 12 hours long, so it’s about endurance and hydration.
“I’ll be having to eat 5,000 calories a day and I’ll be sweating two litres an hour, so I’ll need to replace the fluids I’m losing with the right balance of minerals.”
Martin’s been told that the route has a 65 per cent success rate for able-bodied people.
He said: “So what’s the chances for someone in a wheelchair? Ten per cent?”
He prickles slightly when asked how he feels about having the odds stacked against him.
“I’ve been told I wouldn’t do a lot of things”, he said. “I hear it every day.
“Maybe that’s why I survived, why I’m here now, to show people what can be done.
“I’m the kind of person who will say ‘Don’t tell me I can’t do something’. Because I’ll prove you wrong.
“There was no way I was dying on a concrete floor of a concert hall.
“But I think that’s a Northern thing. You sit and mope about something or you get on with it. I’ve always got on with stuff, and this is just another thing.
“Now it feels like I’ve got the whole country behind me.”
Since announcing his intentions last week, Martin has been inundated with interview requests from media outlets nationally and internationally, and raised £20,000 in two days on his Just Giving site.
He’s even had an email of support from journalist-turned TV host Piers Morgan, from Hollywood film star Chris Hemsworth who he met when rehabilitating in Australia, and an extra £75,000 has been pledged by a law firm.
Aside from his celebrity friends, Martin has also been contacted by many families also affected by the arena bombing.
He said: “I’ve been in touch with a lot of other families in the past few days, a few of them have burst into tears.
“I’ll be doing something privately at the top for them, I might take a bee (Manchester’s symbol that has become synonymous with the attack) with me.”
Martin also aims to take a Paralympic torch from the London Games to the top to mark the Paralympic year.
Nik Hartley, chief executive of Spinal Injuries Association, said: “Martin is a football-loving family man whose life changed unexpectedly and forever one night in Manchester.
“With grit and determination, he has rebuilt his life and is now supporting other injured people.
“Too often disabled people are seen as second-class citizens, but Martin’s incredible climb is a powerful statement of why achieving one’s goals should not be defined by disability.”
To make a donation, go to: https://justgiving.com/campaign/martinsmountain
Alternatively, text SIA followed by your donation amount in pounds (e.g. SIA10) to 70085.