An ex-army gunner told she would never have use of her legs after carrying heavy shells crushed her spine astounded her wedding guests by WALKING down the aisle.
Bride Emma Kitson put in hours of leg strength training so she could make the 20ft journey to the altar without her wheelchair.
She surprised her husband, swimming coach, Chris Kitson, 38, who had no idea she would be approaching him on foot.
Debt charity worker Emma, 35, who has been in a wheelchair for seven years, said: “I thought to myself ‘whatever happens when I get out of that church I actually do not care.
“‘If I’m in a wheelchair for the rest of my life I do not care because I can actually say I’ve walked to Christopher and then I’ve walked with him out of the church, and that’s everyone’s dream, isn’t it?'”.
When Emma was in training she pushed herself so much she managed 29 seconds walking on the treadmill.
She said: “It did help me that I walked down the aisle with my dad and my son at the side of me, and then I had my husband for support on the way back.
“I also took tons of medication to help the pain.”
Emma joined the army as a gunner with the Royal Artillery when she was just 18 and saw active service in Iraq in 2003.
As one of a very small number of female gunners, she wanted to prove herself and “keep up with the lads” – not realising the 100lb shells – AS90 bullets for tanks – she was carrying on her back were slowly damaging her spine.
She left the army as a 21-year-old, when the pain in her back became too much to bear.
It became progressively worse throughout her twenties and doctors at Leeds General Infirmary told her they had no choice but to operate to try to repair the damage.
Mum-of-three Emma, from Halifax, West Yorks., said: “I wasn’t prepared for what would happen.
“I was told there was only a 4% chance I wouldn’t be able to walk. I woke up and couldn’t feel my left leg.”
She left hospital in a wheelchair and has been using one ever since.
Active Emma, who took part in the 2017 Canada Invictus Games and won three swimming gold medals and a bronze in power-lifting, walked up the aisle at St Bartholomew’s Church in Armley, Leeds, to marry her husband.
She was determined to spend as much of her wedding day, on August 9 this year, without her chair.
She sat on a high stool for the photos and sat in a chair at each table with her guests at the reception.
She said: “I wanted to avoid being in my wheelchair for as much of the day as possible – I wanted to show my dress off as much as I could on my special day.”
Although Emma is not paralysed, she cannot walk because she is in constant pain and it hurts too much to do so.
Emma turned her life around when she entered the Warrior Games, a multi-sport event for wounded, injured or ill service personnel and veterans organised by the United States Department of Defence, in 2014.
“It was being with the squaddies again,” Emma added. “Some of them have lost limbs and it just put my life into perspective.”
The games gave her back her confidence and gave her the strength to leave an abusive relationship.
She met Chris while training for the 2018 Invictus Games – is an international multi-sport event, created by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel – and he made her feel like “life was worth living again”.
The couple now live in Halifax with their daughter Charlotte, three, and Emma’s children from a previous relationship, Kiera, 14, and Archie, 10.
Despite her injuries Emma has never sought compensation from the Ministry of Defence or the hospital who performed her surgery.
She said: “There is too much of a compensation culture and I didn’t want to bog myself down in destructive fights against organisations struggling for money.
“I know soldiers who have been in this situation and I’ve seen it’s not worth the battle.
“I have been offered another operation but I don’t want to do it, I feel I am managing as I am. At least I have feeling in my legs.
“Instead I get on with living a happy life, I work hard and set a good example for my children.
“I am now more active than I have ever been, and my children are also achieving their own sporting goals.
“Yes, I am in constant pain and on so many pain killers that I would rattle if you shook me, but I get on with my life and I enjoy it.
“Right now I am really happy that I ended my single life walking, and started my married life walking.
“I do not see myself as an inspiration. I make my own inspiration. Everybody can be their own inspiration, you can achieve your dreams.”