Paul’s life-changing climb

Paul Pritchard is an experienced climber who has successfully tackled some of the world’s most remote places – from Patagonia, the very tip of South America, to the Arctic, Pakistan, India and Nepal.

His life completely changed however on Friday 13 February 1998 when he was climbing the notoriously thin ‘Totem Pole’ in Tasmania (65 metres high and only four metres wide), and a large rock shard fell on his head.

Paul was effectively swinging off a rope into thin air, high above a swelling sea, with a major head wound that was bleeding profusely.

“I remember putting my hand inside my helmet and feeling a ghastly hole in my head, pulling my fingers away and noticing that it wasn’t just blood on my hand; there was also cerebral fluid,” Paul says.

“I also knew that I’d done something really bad to myself because I couldn’t use my right arm or right leg – they were already feeling like a corpse’s.”

The events of that day left Paul with Hemiplegia, a form of paralysis on the right hand side of his body. He also experienced initial periods of facial agnosia (failing to recognise people’s faces) and ongoing aphasia (having trouble finding the right word for things).

After the accident, Paul spent six weeks in hospital in Tasmania, followed by a year in hospital back in the UK, where he was a citizen at the time.

Despite his harrowing ordeal, Paul is very positive about his ongoing progress.

“The exciting thing about a brain injury is that you never stop getting better because of the plastic nature of the brain – as long as you work at it all the time,” Paul says.

“You never really know how well a person with a brain injury is going to do.

“It’s not absolute at all and that’s something that I’m quite passionate about; spruiking the fact that if anybody tells you that you’re going to be like this forever, it’s not true.”

Proving that theory, Paul went back to The Totem Pole in 2016 and successfully climbed it to the top.

“It felt like an 18 year loop had finally closed,” Paul says.

“At the time I felt a huge sense of relief and also tiredness.

“Before I climbed it (The Totem Pole), I had some really negative experiences with ableism, including a few instances of getting beaten up.

“Since then, I’ve hit my strides and my confidence has gone through the roof.”

Completing the climb had such a profound effect on Paul that he wrote a book about it. Titled The Mountain Path, the book details his journey of personal growth and acceptance.

“The accident taught me acceptance by the bucket loads really, I think hardship generally does that,” Paul says.

“With acceptance comes the courage to navigate, if necessary, stumbling blocks of life that we’re all going to face, every single one of us.

“That’s why I think that facing your fears is a really fantastic thing to do.”

Paul is positive about the future and says it’s an exciting time to be a person with disability.

“I think we’re currently having a disability/inclusion revolution – it’s all about adopting disability awareness.

“I think it goes straight to the heart of our common humanity because any of us could join the ranks of the disabled at any time.

“With so many people identifying as having a disability, most of us know somebody who has disability even if we ourselves are not disabled.”

Paul now lives in Tasmania with his wife, Melinda and two children.

You can read more about Paul and his published books on his website