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Hilary Lister Dies

August 20, 2018

Same Difference is deeply saddened by the death of one of our inspirations, Hilary Lister.

In the early days of our site, we covered her sailing achievements with interest and admiration. We never forgot her and we never will.

RIP Hilary Lister. Thank you for showing the world that disability doesn’t have to end dreams.

The first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain has died at the age of 46.

Hilary Lister, who was paralysed from the neck down, became famous after she used the “sip-and-puff” system for steering and controlling a yacht’s sails by blowing and sucking through plastic straws.

She became the first quadriplegic person to sail across the Channel in 2005 and then the first quadriplegic woman to sail around the Isle of Wight in 2007. Two years later she sailed solo around Britain.

The International Sailing Federation (now known as World Sailing) judged that the feat put her in the top four sailors in the world.

Announcing her death, a post on her charity website said: “It is with deep regret that Hilary’s Dream Trust announces the passing of its founder – Hilary Lister – an inspiration to many, a recipient of many accolades and a record holder of many sailing achievements.”

Alex Lister paid tribute to his stepmother, telling the BBC: “She turned the suffering she was experiencing into an opportunity.”

Lister, from Dunkirk, near Canterbury, Kent, was born able-bodied but had the degenerative condition reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which meant she used a wheelchair from the age of 15.

She went on to study biochemistry at Jesus College, Oxford, but during her studies her condition worsened and she became paralysed from the neck down at the age of 27.

Lister started sailing with Westbere Sailing Opportunities in Canterbury in 2003, and said: “Within 30 seconds of being in a boat I was in love.”

She won the Sunday Times Helen Rollason award for inspiration in 2007 and was awarded other accolades, including a Cosmopolitan superhero award and the Royal Cruising Club’s seamanship award in 2005.

Hilary’s Dream Trust supports disabled and disadvantaged people in taking up sailing.



3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2018 4:52 pm

    Hilary was also the victim of someone who spied on her seeking to expose her faking her disability — they hid a camera in her house and then sold the footage of her moving her arms to the Daily Mirror. This was because of an electrode of some sort she had had implanted which was experimental; by the time the story went to print, the device had moved and she had lost all the function she had gained back.

    • August 20, 2018 4:59 pm

      I had no idea about this. Thanks for sharing.

    • August 21, 2018 5:19 pm

      I found it –

      Sunday Mirror – Total Scumbags

      “an implant designed only to provide pain relief”

      “…led to her receiving thousands of pounds in sponsorship from companies around the world and even the Oman Royal Family.”

      “And Hilary – nominated for a Sports Personality of the Year in 2005 – has also received disability benefits to pay for carers who look after her round the clock.”

      “Now our footage presents”

      “The videos were handed to the Sunday Mirror by a source who was concerned Hilary had not been giving a fair account of her condition.”

      “It is understood she receives disability benefits to pay for three full-time staff giving round-the-clock care.”

      “a number of Woman Of The Year gongs.”


      “But Hilary told the Sunday Mirror: “I have been a quadriplegic since the age of 28 or 29 when I lost the use of my hands. Any suggestion I lied about my capabilities is completely wrong.”

      ““In September 2015, I had a spinal cord implant put into my spine between the shoulder blades, with a battery in my left hip. It is designed to ­stimulate the spinal cord and is to help with pain control by activating electrodes.”

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