Lexi Chambers Redefining Limits: Triumphing Over Adversity and Setting World Records for Hope

Lexi Chambers: Triumphing Over Adversity & Setting World Records for Hope

Bridie Houlihan

Bridie Houlihan | Founder & CEO of Female Health Founders


Hi Lexi Chambers, can you share your personal story that fuelled your drive to complete your charity fundraising event to go from Scotland to Cornwall in an NHS wheelchair?

3 and a half years ago I had my leg amputated due to a chronic pain condition. Prior to discovering I had a rare condition called CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) I was quite athletic. I had huge ambitions, such as climbing Mt Everest, completing triathlons and running the London Marathon. The only thing that stood in my way was pain in my feet when I ran, which began whilst I was serving in the British Army. 10 years ago I had my 1st corrective surgery on my left foot, which should have seen me back to fitness within 6 weeks.

It did not. In fact, little did I know that it was just the beginning of 20 surgeries. No doctor could quite understand why I was in so much pain.

-Lexi Chambers

In short, 8 surgeries later including the removal of 2 toes, it was discovered that I had CRPS. The trouble with this is that there is no cure for this condition, and no pain medications work to relieve the agonising pain. Pain which caused me, on more than one occasion, to consider taking my own life. I had also had the condition for so long that it was considered to be in its advanced stages, and so the only course of action, if I ever wished to walk or run again was to beg doctors to amputate my left leg below the knee, and 3 years ago I was granted my wish. However, this unfortunately was not the end of CRPS for me. 

wheelchair,

It was at the beginning of this journey where I was sat in my very heavy and cumbersome wheelchair in my kitchen, and I suddenly said to my wife, ‘I wonder if I could wheel from lands end to John O’groates.’ My wife rolled her eyes and said  ‘if you want to, I’m sure you can!’.

The next day I began wheeling. Just a single km first along the Quat where I live. I got thrown out of my wheelchair a number of times. I must have looked rediculous. There was no stump board on my wheelchair so I made one out of the bottom of the cat carrier, and then tied a pillow to it with zipties!

-Lexi Chambers

But I kept going, adding a km every few days. It soon became apparent that I needed a normal, but proper wheelchair. I had to practically beg the NHS for this. They couldn’t understand the crps and the fact that I was telling them I had another pain in my leg which was causing major problems. Over a year later we finally found out I had 3 neuromas in my stump! Which required more surgery. 

I campaigned for 8 months and finally got a chair. Nothing special, just a normal wheelchair I could wheel myself about in, a quickie argon 2. 

-Lexi Chambers

The transition from 2 legs to amputee was not a smooth one. Once I had been through months of grieving for the loss of my leg, my life, my career as an NHS registered nurse, my independence, my friends and my dreams, I devised a plan to rebuild and cultivate a new life. This began with the acceptance of the circumstances in which I found myself and then a plan of action. How could I still engage in sport and achieve my dreams? Everest was a little tricky, on account of the wheels. So when I saw that the charity Blesma (British Limbless Veterans Association) was offering places in the London marathon, I jumped at the chance (metaphorically of course!) 

lexi chambers

What inspired you to start fundraising for your particular chosen charities?

I wanted to give something back to Blesma who had helped me so much since my amputation, but the only way in which I could complete the London marathon would be to use my everyday wheelchair. I could not afford a sports chair, but also figured that if i was to deliberately make things difficult for myself, then this would surely increase donations to the charity? So I began training properly.  

So, what is the difference between a sports chair and a standard wheelchair? A sports chair is built for sport. It is aerodynamic, light weight, placing the athlete in the correct position for speed and endurance.

Whilst the everyday wheelchair is the complete opposite. It is like running a marathon in a pair of lead boots v’s high performance running shoes. But that was not going to stop me.

-Lexi Chambers

So I began with 2km, then 3, 4, 5 etc… I was still struggling to raise funds, so I again thought if I made things more difficult for myself with a series of 1st’s that would surely help? So in a 4 month period I embarked upon a series of events. My 1st triathlon using a handbike and my everyday wheelchair, after learning to swim with 1 leg, which was very tricky. I then completed my 1st half marathon, which was 90% uphill. From there I ended up completing 7 events in total. 2 triathlons, 4 half marathons and the London marathon, all in my everyday wheelchair. I also managed to set 2 new world records along the way for the fastest female to complete a full Marathon and a half marathon using a non-sport wheelchair. But most importantly managed to raise £1600 for Blesma. 

After this, I set to training for Lands end. I had a chap who believed in me and said he would organise everything  and was totally behind me. Then had surgery 2 weeks after London and was in hospital for over a month. I left hospital nearing the end of November after suffering 2 additional surgeries because of a raging infection which took a month to get under control. I lost over a stone and a half. But I set myself a goal to complete another marathon in training before Christmas and I did this mid December.  I then had to change my event again and diddnt want to waste a year, where i could be helping a charity. So it was back to training.

I had decided to attempt to become the 1st female to wheel for 12 hours non stop around a track.

-Lexi Chambers

Basically a normal wheelchair on a tartan track is like wheeling through wet sand. So I trained and trained and trained. Then on the 21st of August 2023, to raise money for the Aaron Lewis Foundation, I managed to become the 1st female in history to wheel for 12 consecutive hours using a standard everyday wheelchair, setting a new world record for the furthest distance covered in 12 hours in an everyday wheelchair (female).

It was not easy. Firstly wheeling for that distance using just your arms in an ordinary wheelchair is almost impossible, but throw in 8-10/10 pain levels on top, and it made things rather tricky! I got the record after 8 hours 44 mins, and then continued to wheel for the 12 hours. I ended up with heat stroke after 9 hours which was awful. Wheeling very slowly trying not to vomit or pass out. Bit somehow I came out the other side with help of lots of fluids, electrolytes and cooling towels and managed to race the last hour despite having tendinitis in my right arm. 

lexi chambers, wheelchair,

So why am I doing this? 

Firstly, my driving force is to raise as much as I can for important charities and to show people like myself what can be done with what you have. To show that nothing is impossible. That even when adversity strikes, you can still achieve your dreams. I am just one person who is trying to make a difference with what I have. I wish to motivate people to engage in sport, with what equipment they have. Especially with the current economic climate, where for the majority, expensive sports equipment is unobtainable. I am hoping to show that you do not need it to achieve your goals, whether you are disabled or not. It’s about getting out there and having a go. 

I knew at this stage that I was ready for Lands end. I had recieved a lot of support with my 12 hour wheel, and some of these wonderful people were wanting to help with Lands end. So we put together a group of volunteers and that’s where we began, In September last year. I decided I wanted to help the Aaron Lewis Foundation again and also the Exeter chiefs foundation. 3 years ago I found out that Exeter had a female rugby team. I had never really watched rugby before, but was intrigued that there was a female team, so I went along with my wife. We loved it and have only missed 1 game since and that was when I was in hospital.

From that day these ladies began to inspire me. What they have to go through just to step foot on a rugby field is extraordinary. They are professional athletes but have to work almost full time around a vigorous training week just to survive. Something that their male counterparts do not have to do.

-Lexi Chambers

I wanted to help them and shed light upon their journey as well.

Some of the Chiefs even came to my last event and ran around Exeter Arena with me, which was amazing. So this year’s event became End2End the rugby relay. Where we will be visiting grass routes and premiership clubs along the way, passing a rugby ball from one club to the next, effectively connecting the country with rugby. The Aaron Lewis Foundation, set up by the family and friends of Lt Aaron Lewis who was an Army engineer attached to 29 commando, loved rugby and wanted to help people engage in sport.

So the 2 charities fit perfectly together. To be honest even if they didn’t I knee I wanted to help both of them. The chief foundation help local sports clubs to be able to continue playing their sports. They are an amazing charity. They both are. So I am inspired by both charities and those who work tirelessly to keep them going. I want to help ensure that they both can keep helping people for years to come. 

Strangely, my life now as a wheelchair dependent person, is actually better than it was before.

-Lexi Chambers

Even though I still have the same excruciating condition, I now have Fibromyalgia and a severe nerve issue in my stump as well, which has required a further 4 surgeries. 3 of which were 2 weeks post london marathon. Despite all of this I am independent, and feel my life has a purpose, setting new goals and helping charities in need. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your fundraising efforts, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenges in fundraising is getting the challenge out there. Asking people to share it on social media, phoning local businesses. I telephoned thousands just to get £200 of sponsorship. I have learnt along the way that it’s about thinking outside the box. Doing anything you can to help. I attended the Triathlon I had completed the previous year with a big banner and buckets and posters with qr codes on them to raise funds. Put posters in local business windows, and shared the challenges endlessly.

Everything with fundraising is a challenge. Especially when you chose little charities. But to me, they are the ones who need the most help.

-Lexi Chambers

I am still learning with how to attract people to the events I do in order to achieve my set goals. Each year so far I had set a £5000 goal and only managed £1600 on the 1st year and £3600 on the 2nd with my 12 hour challenge. So although I had completed everything I set out to do and achieved 3 world records, in my mind, I had failed. But this just made me more determined to keep going and to help these charities more. 

There have been so many moments during the past couple of years that have impacted my. But the one which stands out the most was a tiny act of kindness from a lady during the London marathon. I was wheeling as hard as I could because it was a world record and I realised I had a huge blob of bubblegum stuck to my wheel. I was hitting it with my hand when I pushed, which was slowing me down, I had no choice but to stop. Which is not what you want to do during a world record attempt. I was struggling to get the gum off my wheel, when a lady came over, took her glove off, used it to pull off the gum and discarded it, and ran on. I thanked her and hope she heard me. But that has stuck in my mind since. 

How do you engage with individuals who may not be familiar with chronic pain or the challenges faced by wheelchair users to raise awareness?

There are many misconceptions about chronic pain and wheelchair users and I have come across quite a few. I actually have PTSD because of an incident in hospital, where I went to my local hospital with a severe infection, and was left in a bed for 19 hours with no treatment or intervention. The nurse stole my medication out of my bag when I was in the toilet and told the Dr’s that I was a ‘pain junkie’, so basically just after pain meds. I even showed them my nurse ID which I still had, and they ignored me.

I was rolling about in agony, and crying in 10/10 pain. My crps and fibro were raging and I also had agony from a large infected abscess in my leg (as we found out later) I was told to shut up. I rang my bell, and it was turned off and I was told off for pressing it.

-Lexi Chambers

I wasn’t examined properly, despite my blood pressure being dangerously low, my heart rate being 140 and my temperature being very high. All the classic signs of infection. I even had a tennis ball lump on my leg which was red and hot, again another sign of infection. Yet I was still ignored. Eventually I managed to get the attention of a tea lady and I asked to see the ward manger. She was lovely and appalled. She told me to put on a complaint. I self discharged at this point and went back to my GP. She was wonderful and arranged for me to be examined in another department. I was septic by this point and ended up having to stay in hospital for over a week, have surgery on my leg and receive numerous IV antibiotics from a lovely ward. 

So now I am rather fearful of going anywhere near my local hospital. It just so happens to be the same hospital I worked in for most of my nursing career, so it was even more of a shock to me. 

lexi chambers, wheelchair,

In your opinion, what are some misconceptions people have about chronic pain and wheelchair users that you aim to dispel through your work?

When it comes to wheelchair users, people often think that you cannot talk or do anything for yourself. It is always lovely to have such kindness from people who offer to help, and always amazed me how kind people can be, but sometimes being pushed by a stranger without them asking is a bit difficult to take. I saw as sticker once saying, pushing me without asking is abduction! I never thought about it that way until I saw that!

But I think the strangest one is people who address the person with me, about me, when I’m there. My Mother had been in a wheelchair towards the end of her life, so I knew about this, but for people new to wheelchair life, it is quite upsetting. I know no one intensively does it. I think it just takes some education to let people know that a wheelchair is just our legs. Nothing more. This is what we use to move. 

How do you maintain motivation and drive when faced with setbacks or difficulties in your training endeavours?

My motivation comes from wanting to help the charities I help and from our Exeter Chiefs Women. They inspire me every day. The chiefs play through injuries, in rain, hail, snow. They just get on with it. So if they can, so can I. And the charities work tirelessly to help others, and that should inspire everyone. 

I am still learning how to effectively fundrais. The best advice I can give to anyone is don’t give up, and to chose a charity that means something to you. If it mens something you will want to do everything you can to succeed. This is true for the first time you begin fundraising or the 10th. I’m learning that the trick seem to be not to give up. Keep sharing what your doing. Ask the charity if they have a JustGiving page. Most seem to. That way the fundraising part is simple. You fill in the page, but the pennies go straight to the charity when your event is complete. Then share it over and over.

lexi chambers

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your fundraising efforts, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge for me is a daily one. Getting up in the morning. Or even sleeping at night. Training with pain. Eating enough. Everything is a challenge to be honest. The medication I have to take. The fact that it stops my bowel from working, so I have to take other meds for that. It goes on and on. So life is the challenge. But I am free to decide how o cope with this. I chose to do, what some people would call, unbelievable things. 

I am still awaiting further treatment for the nerve issues, which will, ironicall be another 1st for anyonento have a nerve injecition to freeze a nerve. It has been done in jaws before, but not a leg, so the protocol is still being written. This will not raid the CRPS, sadly, so I have not ruled out the possibility of a further above knee amputation which could see me pain free for the first time in 10 years (negating the fibromyalgia), but it could also see the return again of a stubborn condition. But that is a conversation for another day…

Can you share some insights into the strategies and tactics you’ve found most effective in reaching your fundraising goals?

We are currently busy planning every part of this journey from John O’groats to Lands end. If successful it will be a world first for someone to complete it using a box standard everyday wheelchair. I will be using my arms and that’s it. No battery packs, or modifications. Just my tilite wheelchair with track wheel on the front for safety.

I will be setting off from John O’groats on the 27th of August 2024. The route can be found on the website. We are actively looking for sponsors and people to help along the way. If anyone wants to help or be involved please get in contact via the website. 

-Lexi Chambers

I have an amazing crew of people you can see in the photo below, and this is growing. This is not a solo effort. I am the one wheeling, but it is a team event and I couldn’t do it without the amazing people helping me. The event is also going to be made into a documentary, which is going to be a fly on the wall account of the whole thing. I hope to help others with chronic pain, as I know it is difficult to communicate with friends and family what you are suffering, so hopefully the documentary may open up conversations. Plus to share the stories of the amazing female rugby players along the way, and capture the event itself. So look out for that. 

Since my conditions began, I have experienced a great deal of loss. The loss of my leg, my independence, and my mobility. Loss of friends, and my career as a NHS registered nurse. But most importantly, of my life as I knew it. It was extremely hard, and I grieved the loss of my leg and of my life, but I knew this could and would not be the end. I had to make it a new beginning. 

lexi chambers, wheelchair,

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in fundraising for similar causes but doesn’t know where to start?

For me, as a disabled woman, setting these milestones is about showing what can be done when against all odds. When I developed CRPS, or Fibromyalgia, or when I had to have my leg amputated, or even just getting up every day, is a challenge for me. But it’s a challenge my body sets for me. The challenges I chose are those that I set, and if I can overcome what my body wants and dictates, then I can overcome what my mind, and others tell me is impossible. 

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