ARMY wife and mum-of-two Jacqui Ponde was a primary school teacher but nine years ago whilst on a posting in Bovington, her life changed dramatically.
“On the 8 August 2009 I fell down the stairs, breaking my neck and incurring C4/5 spinal cord injury. I was paralysed from the neck down and spent the following five months in hospital. We were told I would almost certainly never walk again.”
Jacqui was in intensive care after undergoing two major operations to stabilise her neck and decompress the spinal cord.
“My children went to live with my parents and the Army gave my husband Alan leave to be by my side during the early, very frightening days,” she explained.
In the months that followed during her stay five hours away in the National Spinal Injury Centre Stoke Mandeville, neighbours on the patch and members of the community offered their support; cooking for the family or putting the children to bed so Alan could drive to hospital.
“Meanwhile, in rehab I received daily letters from Army friends far and wide,” said Jacqui.
“My fight back to general health and eventually walking was an arduous one, taking several years. Even now, my injury has life-changing implications and I am required to attend hospital regularly. I miss my job and running, which was a love of mine prior to injury.”
Jacqui first heard about the Jurassic Coast Challenge when a friend’s soldier husband completed it and it became a dream that if she was ever well enough, she would one day attempt it.
Posted back to Bovington two years ago – eight years post injury and in much better health – Jacqui decided it was now or never. She explained: “With the help of Sarah Wilkinson, a fellow Army wife, I put together a team of five to attempt the challenge. One of the team, Sarah Dyer, was my old running partner from when we were posted in Colchester, so it was amazing to be well enough to attempt the three marathons with her.”
The training took around four months, but the team were determined to succeed.
“Our husbands were brilliant at strapping up feet, tending to blisters and advising us about dietary issues associated with walking such extreme distances,” added Jacqui.
Word spread in Bovington and Army wives came forward to volunteer to walk different sections of the 90 miles and help to raise sponsorship.
“Between us we raised almost £10,000 for the Spinal Injury Association, a charity which my whole family have supported since the accident and is so close to our hearts,” said Jacqui.
“People have asked how I managed to walk three marathons in three days. I applied the same determination that I had to when learning to walk again, which was the most painful and greatest challenge of my life, and I reminded myself at every stage how lucky I was to have been given a second chance.
“I took strength from my dedicated team mates. When I fell and thought I couldn’t continue, they picked me up off the coastal path. Everything was down to teamwork.”
Team member Denise Moore said she had no hesitation in getting involved, adding: “Jacqui is a true inspiration and watching her determination to complete the long, arduous walks every day was awe-inspiring. I am proud to call Jacqui my friend.”
Denise’s daughter Hannah said: “It proves that you can get through anything with enough positivity, willpower and determination and most importantly having a great support network around you.”
Jacqui has started her next challenge after being awarded a scholarship by the charity Flying Scholarships for Disabled People and has begun her pilot training.
“This gives me the chance to prove to myself what I am still capable of and to meet other disabled people overcoming their own difficulties,” she concluded. “It’s important to me that despite my injury, I continue to be a role model to my children.”