A dad-of-three who is paralysed from the waist down has walked 125 miles over just four weeks – thanks to a high-tech, £100,000 robotic exo-skeleton suit.
Simon Kindleysides, 36, was diagnosed in 2013 with functional neurological disorder and a benign glioma brain tumour – leaving him with no feeling in his legs or lower body.
But the dad-of-three has not let his disability stand in his way – and has just raised almost £14,000 for the NHS in the last month by walking at least four miles every day in February.
His amazing walking achievement, which saw him walk 234,000 steps over the month of February, is thanks to the £100,000 ReWalk exo-skeleton suit, which acts as a pair of legs for Simon.
Simon, from Blofield, Norfolk, operates the suit himself by tilting his hips from side to side to activate the opposite leg and foot – leaning on his left hip to lift his right foot, and vice versa.
Determined Simon, who is dad to Anya, 17, Corin, ten, and four-year-old Lyra, trudged his way through all weathers on his daily walking challenge – even wading through heavy snowfall in the wake of Storm Darcy.
And despite being told that the battery-powered, chargeable suit could only manage four miles of walking consecutively, on some days Simon was able to push the suit to cover up to six miles.
He said: “On some days it was really difficult. The most challenging bit was definitely walking in the snow. It was the first time in ten years that I had walked on snow.
“But I love pushing boundaries. I love to be the first paralysed man to do things. My mantra is, ‘Anything is possible’.
“What was really special was that when people around Blofield heard what I was doing, people would come out of their houses if they saw me coming past, and they would clap for me.
“Those were really magical moments. It’s strange to think that that started off as a thing for the NHS, but now they were doing it for me.”
And despite having had his exoskeleton suit for almost three years – after a kind, anonymous stranger donated him £100,000 for the cost of the suit – he said it still “baffles” him to see himself walking.
He said: “It still baffles me to look down and see my feet moving in front of me. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”
Simon was diagnosed with functional neurological disorder eight years ago, in 2013, after suffering from headaches for “years”, he said.
“I thought it was just down to stress from work. But then I was admitted into hospital with suspected appendicitis, and whilst in there I caught norovirus.
“Then the next day I woke up and couldn’t feel my legs. It was pretty terrifying,” he said.
Subsequent scans have shown that Simon’s brain tumour remains stable – but it cannot be removed as it is near the centre of his brain.
But not one to be deterred, Simon also holds a Guinness World Record for the fastest paralysed man to complete the London Marathon – after walking the famous race in the exoskeleton suit in 2018.
His official recorded time from start line to finish time is 36 hours and 46 minutes – although Simon says the time he actually spent walking was 27 hours and 26 minutes, over the course of two days.
Simon said: “Usually I have a team of about five people around me when I’m doing these challenges.
“But during the lockdown, when that hasn’t been possible, I was going a bit stir crazy staring at the same four walls all day every day, and my mental health was struggling.
“So I decided to take myself off and do this daily walking challenge, mostly by myself.
“The battery on the suit is only supposed to last for four consecutive miles of walking – but on my longest day, I walked for six and a half miles.
“That was pretty cool, because I don’t think even the manufacturers knew it was capable of that.”
And Simon added that the exoskeleton suit has “changed his life”, saying: “It makes me feel more human-like.
“It means I can go walking through the woodland with my two younger kids – and last year, I walked on the sand with them on the beach for the first time ever. That was pretty magical.”
Simon is already planning his next challenge, and is in talks with ‘The Cheesgrater’ building in London – next to the Gherkin – to climb the 2,320 stairs to the top of the building.
He said: “I hope one day I’ll be able to fly out to Dubai and climb the stairs of the Burj Khalifah, the tallest building in the world.
“I’d love to do the New York Marathon, too. And I’m having another go at the London Marathon next year to see if I can beat my previous time.
“I can do a mile in about 27 minutes now, as opposed to the 48 minutes it was taking me the first time I did the marathon.
“So hopefully I can cut my time down to around 12-14 hours.”
To donate to Simon’s fundraiser for the NHS, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/walkingforthenhs?