Our Flyers - Paul Spanner is a remarkable individual and his story demonstrates how learning to fly can benefit all aspects of your life whatever challenges you are facing
Paul served with the Royal Marines for just over 27 years and was medically discharged in November 2015 as a result of a near fatal break to his neck from riding for the Royal Navy Royal Marines Cycling team.
Paul technically died twice by the side of the road before being stabilised. His injuries included a fractured skull and 14 fractured vertebrae to the neck and back as well as breaks to his clavicle, upper ribs, right hand and wrist. Paul’s recovery was quite remarkable, walking within three days of surgery and riding a bike (albeit tentatively) nine weeks after the accident.
However, there were and remain underlying issues for Paul. For example, the spring in his spine which is critical to his ability to lead a normal life has microns of clearance between his vertebrae and central cortex. The implant can touch at times leading to bouts of partial paralysis or severe impairment and numbness of his limbs.
Subsequently, Paul losing consciousness whilst at his desk was the beginning of a much longer and more difficult recovery programme as he lost control of his neuro-linguistic pathway and the ability to coordinate or contemplate many simple cerebral tasks.
Paul found that the MSc he was undertaking in Leadership and Business Management became too difficult for him along with most tasks other than riding a bike or going for a walk.
Through specialist treatment he began the slow process of rebuilding his cognitive reasoning and abilities to order thought and speech. His recovery from brain injury was reasonable but plateaued off. Paul found knowing what he had been capable of and where he now found himself very frustrating and this placed a burden on many relationships; his marriage failed and he realised for the first time that his current career would never resume in any meaningful way.
During this dark period Paul joined the Team GB ParaOlympic development cycling squad through a Help for Heroes connection. Paul also began skiing again and joined the Armed Forces Para Snowsport team.
In the background of all of his cycling and skiing achievements Aerobility has been a critical enabler in Paul’s recovery. Paul has completed 12 hours of instructed flying with Aerobility since May 2015 through 12 lessons of 45 – 90 minutes. He has also completed many hours of home study.
Paul’s Neurosurgeons and Cognitive Therapists noticed a significant change in his responses concurrent with his starting to learn to fly with Aerobility. Learning the complex and multi-faceted skill of flying which relies on coordinated physical and mental memory skills enabled Paul to also manage other cognitive tasks and Paul found that he was able to complete his MSc and progressively his speech returned to a near normal state with minimal stammer or hesitation. Paul’s cognitive and cerebral skills are now assessed as being within the top 2% of the country’s population. Paul is now seizing every opportunity coming his way. He has now applied for a funded PhD place and has a job interview coming up with an organisation who have been particularly impressed with his recovery journey, his cycling and flying skills.
Paul says ‘I have always been a very confident person but through the art of learning to fly with Aerobility I have gained confidence in new areas and flying has increased my well being and enjoyment of life. Flying has tested my analytical skills that had become dormant through injury and I have gained many insights into how I process information. Not easily frightened, I enjoy how flying gives me that adrenaline boost that makes me feel alive especially when landing a plane. I get a focus and perspective in the air that you don’t get on the ground. I find flying the perfect combination of relaxation and mental stimulation.’
In 2016 Paul aims to complete his Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) and become a Volunteer Motivational Speaker for Aerobility. His long term aim is to become an Instructor and teach people with disabilities to fly. ‘I feel this will complete the cycle.’
Paul is also an Ambassador and motivational speaker for disabled sports specifically cycling and skiing.