Tears spring to my eyes. I’m drinking my morning coffee at 5:00 am, scanning the obituaries in the New York Times. There’s one of a 46-year-old British woman. Her life blows me away.
As a girl, Hilary Lister played rugby and hockey, but noticed pain in her knees when she was a teenager. Doctors puzzled over her diagnosis, and by age 17 she was in a wheelchair. Ten years later, she was immobile from the neck down, in almost constant pain.
Yet she didn’t want to spend all her time on a couch. When she went sailing with a friend, she found a whole new life. “I was out in the middle of the lake, and I had the sensation of movement. It was as if I was free.”
Lister learned to operate a specially outfitted sailboat by sipping and blowing into straws that moved the tiller and worked the sails. Because she had to be strapped in, there was always a possibility that her sailboat would capsize and she would drown.
Conditions for sailing were harder for her than most people. Heat and cold were serious concerns. She could not relieve herself for hours at a time. While sailing she still experienced pain from her condition.
Yet she was the first quadriplegic to sail alone across the English Channel. She was the first disabled woman to sail completely around Britain.
She sailed until a year and a half ago, stopping only because her illness became too overwhelming.
Lister died this past Saturday. I’ll never forget her.