Sailing Saved Quadriplegic Hilary Lister’s Life

Eleven years ago Hilary Lister had decided to take her own life. Then she learned to sail.

May 8, 2014
Hilary Lister
Hilary Lister Courtesy

Hilary Lister had had the difficult conversation with her husband — a few times in fact. The quadriplegic had finally made the decision to end her life, had prepared to say goodbyes to Clifford and the rest of her family.

“It got to a point where I evaluated my life,” Lister told CNN. “I had to decide whether the space that I take up on the sofa [which unable to move she had done for hours and days on end] was still worth inhabiting.

“I came to the conclusion it wasn’t. I was at a very, very low point.


“I knew if and when my condition got any worse I would end my life. That was a decision myself and my husband were both aware of. You don’t make that decision on your own, you have to prepare yourself.”

It was to be a pre-ordained death with rules.

“Basically, I wouldn’t allow myself to take my tablets any more if I got much worse or got depressed or whatever,” Lister added.


“But I also set parameters to make sure that it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. I have wonderful friends and family, who made sure they did everything to make sure my life was worth living.”

For all their collective positivity, though, nothing worked, until a friend lured Lister to an outing on the water at Westbere Sailing Club, her local club in southern England.

“It wouldn’t overstate it to say that sailing saved my life,” said Lister.


“It just gave me a little glimmer of thinking that space I was taking up on the sofa was worth inhabiting after all, particularly as someone had managed to get me off it to get on the water.

“It was like ‘gosh, I’ve found a reason to live.'”

That was 11 years ago.


Since that Damascene conversion she has sailed single handed across the English Channel, circumnavigated Great Britain and most recently sailed the 1,500 kilometers across the Arabian Sea from Mumbai to Muscat, her first proper offshore expedition.

It made her the first paralyzed women to complete the voyage while also on board was Omani yachtswoman Nashwa Al Kindi, the first Arab woman to complete the trip.

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