‘I’m living, I’m fighting and I’m going to get there’: Nicola Wilson thanks charity – as £194,000 is raised to help more riders

  • “I’m living, I’m fighting and I’m going to get there”, were Nicola Wilson’s words in a moving speech at the British Eventing Support Trust (BEST) ball – as the charity raised £194,000 to help more riders.

    On Saturday (10 December) the eventing community came together at the first BEST fundraiser, at the Savoy Hotel, London. The charity was launched in September 2021 to provide financial and practical support for riders who are dealing with physical injuries or mental health issues, as well as promoting eventing safety through new research projects.

    A total of £194,000 was raised on the night, from ticket sales, a silent auction, a raffle and pledges. Among the auction lots and raffle prizes were an overnight stay and training with Piggy March, lessons from top riders including Tom McEwen, Tom Jackson and Laura Collett, theatre and sports tickets, an overnight stay at the Savoy, and a Bates saddle. An award was also presented, a BE honorary life membership, to Di Brunsden for leading the BE IT strategic review task force.

    British Eventing team manager Dickie Waygood took to the stage and led a standing ovation for Nicola Wilson’s husband Alastair, then introduced Nicola in a heartfelt speech paying tribute to her journey since her fall at Badminton in May, and her “resilient” character.

    “I am absolutely sure, as everybody in this room would be, sometimes that inner chimp would be there saying to Nic ‘You’re not tough enough to ride this storm’, but I can tell you now, Nicola looks back at that inner chimp and says ‘I am the storm’,” he said.

    Nicola discussed her journey since her fall, and thanked BEST for all its support, including funding her physio sessions.

    “Without the help of this charity I really do not know what we would have done. When I had the fall I was instantly paralysed from my neck down which stopped me breathing. I was aware when I was lying on the floor that there was somebody next to me, but obviously I ran out of oxygen quite quickly, and that was it, lights out for me,” she said.

    “You have to forgive me if I sound a bit emotional, it is still a bit raw really at the moment on my journey but I want to thank the whole eventing family, my whole team at home, my fabulous Alastair, and my family, and everybody in this room. Your lovely messages of support and cards and letters really have made me so much stronger than I perhaps thought I could be.

    “It’s really fantastic to be able to stand here this evening and to walk. Again I’m getting emotional because I know how bloody lucky I am to actually be walking when a lot of people in the hospital weren’t, and didn’t show signs of walking.”

    Nicola spoke about the challenges she has faced in learning how to do “most basic life things”, like brushing her teeth and feeding herself. But the speech was not without humour; she described her hydro physio sessions “swimming club”, where Alastair takes her to “flail around in the water”.

    “Joking apart, it’s absolutely terrifying being in hospital. When you’re at the most vulnerable and you’re trying to organise your rehab when you leave. But the reassurance that the BEST foundation has given myself and my family is unbelievable. They really are like fairies,” she said.

    Nicola also thanked the World Class programme for the support given to her and Alastair, and her yard staff.

    “Whether it was a shoulder to cry on or to offer emotional support, and for helping us carve out our next lives in the future. All I wanted was quality of life and to be able to live life as much as possible and earn a living. I’m going to be able to do this,” she said.

    “Yes, life is difficult for Alastair and me, and I’m living it in a body which is very weird, but I’m living, and I’m fighting and I’m going to get somewhere, and I’m thrilled to be able to walk. I feel incredibly lucky, there are many people worse off than me. And this charity going forward, with other athletes in mind who are struggling with mental illness or physical injuries, is amazing. Thank you for all your hard work.”

    Piggy March and Nicola Wilson. Credit Julian Portch

    Dickie told H&H the atmosphere on the night was “fantastic”.

    “Nic’s been an inspiration to everybody; from where she’s come from to where she is now is absolutely fantastic. She’s taken people on that journey, and it’s really raised awareness for BEST. She’s been an absolute champion,” he said.

    “The charity is a fantastic initiative. We have to accept that eventing is a high-risk sport and a charity like BEST will look after athletes in different ways. It might be with physical injuries or recovery, or mental health, so it’s only a good thing. The sky’s the limit with the type of support it can offer, so I think everyone should really get behind it.”

    BEST trustee Lexi Hambro, who organised the ball with the help of a committee, told H&H the night was “emotional”.

    “Seeing how the rehab is helping Nicola, and all the other people we’re helping, I said even if we get £10,000 it’s going to go a long way. So when everyone started bidding and the auction kept going up and up, it was incredible. The next day when I did the figures I had to get my husband to check them as I thought I got something wrong, I just couldn’t believe the total raised – I’m gobsmacked,” she said, adding that fundraising activities will continues with an online quiz with prizes to take place in February (date TBC).

    “The money will go towards supporting more riders; whether they’ve had an accident at home or an event, or they need support with their mental health,” she said. “We are working with all the rehab facilities at the Injured Jockeys Fund, thanks to their chief executive officer Lisa Hancock, who is one of our new trustees. We have also got involved with mental health charity Sporting Chance so we will use them to provide counselling sessions for riders.

    “Since BEST has started posting more on social media one thing we’ve noticed is we’re getting more and more applications from riders who need support. There’s only so much the NHS can do, and BEST has been needed for so long.”

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