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Hilary Lister: quadriplegic sailor dies aged 46

By Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain has died aged 46.

Hilary Lister, who lived in Dunkirk near Canterbury, was born able-bodied but a degenerative condition left her wheelchair-bound at the age of 15.

She went on to study biochemistry at the University of Oxford, but while studying for a PhD her condition grew worse and at the age of 27 she became paralysed from the neck down.

Hilary Lister at Dover harbour with her boat, after completing her record-breaking round-Britain voyage
Hilary Lister at Dover harbour with her boat, after completing her record-breaking round-Britain voyage

Hilary started sailing in Westbere, just outside Canterbury in 2003, and soon fell in love with the sport.

She was able to sail thanks to "sip-puff" technology – which allowed her to steer and adjust the sails using three straws, linked to an innovative Power Assist System.

In 2005 she sailed the English Channel, breaking a world record and fulfilling her own ambition.

Hilary Lister during her voyage around the Isle of Wight
Hilary Lister during her voyage around the Isle of Wight

Two years later, she sailed solo around the Isle of Wight and in 2009, she sailed solo around Britain.

Hilary managed to secure sponsorship, making it possible for her to fulfil her dreams.

But, recognising the difficulty many have in gaining such backing, she created charity Hilary's Dream Trust which aims to help other disabled and disadvantaged adults.

Hilary opening the new Herne Bay Sailing Club boat shed in 2014
Hilary opening the new Herne Bay Sailing Club boat shed in 2014

In 2010, the world record holder also embarked on a four-day, 100-mile jaunt around the Bahrain coastline in aid of disability charity Bahrain Mobility International.

She won a number of accolades for her achievements, including the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration in the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Awards, and Vitalise Woman of Achievement Award – and was even a contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2009.

Hilary's family broke the news of her death today and friends have paid tribute on social media.

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