4 Inspirational British Paralympic Athletes Who Overcame Road Accidents

Thousands of road traffic accidents occur every year, during which hundreds of people are killed or seriously injured. Those who survive can often be left with debilitating injuries. The Paralympics are a beacon of hope, showing that recovery is possible and that serious injury can be overcome. Below we look at 4 inspirational British Paralympic athletes who, despite being seriously injured in road traffic accidents, went on to win medals at Paralympic events around the world.


  • Athlete: John McFall
  • D.O.B: 24/04/1981
  • Category: Athletics
  • Impairment: His right leg was amputated above the knee.
  • 2016 Status: Retired
  • His story:

John McFall was interested in sport from a young age. When he left school at age 18 he travelled the world around South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, in a bid to gain some life experience before he began university.

Unfortunately, Thailand is where his journey came to an abrupt end. Whilst travelling on a motorbike, John went too fast around a corner and lost control in an accident he claims was “totally” his fault.[1]

When the bike went down John was dragged with it. By flinging his leg out to stop the vehicle, his leg became bent in the opposite direction. Once the bike had landed, the bike’s drive chain ripped into his leg, causing serious damage.

His leg was amputated above the knee in a Bangkok hospital a few days later. McFall returned home to the UK and was admitted to Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, London, where he spent many weeks recovering. During this time McFall recalls a turning point in his outlook. He began to write a poem to express his feelings and realised that all was not lost.

 “I had my family, my heart was still beating, I was still breathing. I had so many rich things in my life, loads of doors had slammed shut but at the same time there were loads of doors that were about to open, and I just didn’t know what was on the other side of them.”[2] 

Amazingly, following his accident, McFall started University in Swansea and began running at the athletic track. He ran in his prosthetic ‘everyday’ leg, which wasn’t designed for dynamic action and broke repeatedly. After speaking to Disability Sport, McFall got the equipment he needed and went on to pursue an athletics career. Having won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in events around the World in 100 and 200m sprints, he subsequently won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 100m race.

He retired soon after for numerous reasons. He preferred middle-distance running and disabled sport only really offered sprint. “In Paralympics, particularly in my discipline, there aren’t the number of athletes in the world to populate lots and lots of events. There are few people who are able to walk again with our level of amputation, let alone jog, run, sprint and become full-time athletes.”[3] He also decided to dedicate his time to his family and the goal of becoming a doctor. In an interview, he stated that when it came to participating in London 2012, “the carrot wasn’t big enough.”[4]


  • Athlete: Simon Lawson
  • D.O.B: 07/02/1982
  • Category: Athletics
  • Impairment: Paralysed from the chest down.
  • 2016 Status: Going to Rio 2016.
  • Story:

Simon Lawson’s dreams of becoming a motocross legend were ruined when he was paralyzed from the chest down in a motorbike accident in 2001. Whilst practising a double jump on a training course at his family’s farm in Maryport his bike’s engine cut out.[5] After the accident, he spent a week unconscious in intensive care. Following this, he spent three months in a hospital rehabilitation ward.

In an interview with TMX News, he recalls being down for a while as a result of his injury. Yet during his recovery he recalls a change of mood; “I gave myself a little shake and started to live my life again, getting out more and going back to racing more often.”[6]

After recovering, Lawson became involved in wheelchair racing and has had his eyes set on Rio for many years. He was unable to compete in the London 2012 Olympics due to illness.

On July 26th Lawson confirmed on his twitter account ( @_SL74) that he would indeed be part of Team GB attending Rio 2016. In  an emotional interview with the News and Star his mum said:

“If someone had told me 15 years ago when he was critical after the accident that he’d be doing this one day I wouldn’t have believed them, but from day one he has been so determined in everything he’s done.”[7]


  • Athlete: Nicole (Nikkie) Emerson
  • Category: Athletics.
  • Impairment: Paralysed from the waist down.
  • 2016 Status: Retired.
  • Story:

Nicole Emerson studied neuroscience and psychology at Oxford University. When driving back from university one day she was unfortunately involved in a near-fatal car accident. The car flipped over, slamming her seat on to the steering wheel, and severing her spine at the T10 level.

The fire brigade arrived and was unable to free her from the car for another three hours. During this time she lost all feeling in her legs. At the hospital, she was told that she would never walk again. She spent another 10 weeks there recovering.

During this time she watched the Beijing Paralympic Games (2008) and was subsequently inspired to try Paralympic sport. She originally trained with GB rowing but her talent was recognised, and she was persuaded to try wheelchair racing. She went on to compete internationally in the sport, winning the Great Manchester 10K in 2011 and 2012. She also achieved the IPC Paralympic A Standards for London 2012 in the T53 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m.[8]



  • Athlete: Josie Pearson
  • D.O.B: 03/01/1986
  • Category: Wheelchair Rugby, Discus, Club throw, Wheelchair Racing.
  • Impairment: Paralyzed from the mid-chest downwards.
  • 2016 Status: Not at Rio 2016.
  • Story:

Josie Pearson was in the car with her friends and boyfriend when they were involved in a head-on collision. As a result of not wearing their seatbelts, she and her best friend were seriously injured and her boyfriend sadly died.

Josie broke two bones in her neck, causing spinal damage. As a result, she was paralysed from the mid-chest downwards and is unable to use her legs.  A keen show jumper before her accident, Josie wanted to continue horse riding but found it difficult. Instead, she decided to train to become a wheelchair racer and took part in 100m, 200m, and 400m events.

When she began her studies at the University of Cardiff she joined a wheelchair rugby team, the ‘Cardiff Pirates,’ and a year later left University to pursue her dream of making the Paralympic squad.

In the 2008 Olympics, she was part of the wheelchair rugby squad, but the team did not achieve a medal. For London 2012 she switched to throwing events (discus and club throw) and on September 7th, 2012 she won gold in the discus event, breaking her own world record in the sport.

In March 2014 she campaigned as part of the ‘All Wales Seatbelt Campaign,’ a campaign which aimed to encourage young people to wear a seatbelt whilst travelling in cars. In an interview she stated:

“I’m a strong person. I’ve had days when I’ve gone through those questions. What did I do to deserve this? Why did it happen to me? But I knew that wasn’t productive. You need to deal with what happened and obviously learn important lessons from that. If I can pass on my experiences especially to young drivers who are learning to drive or who have just passed their test that these rules and regulations are there to protect you.”[9]










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