Martin's Mountain: Q&A with Martin and wife Gabby
Northern bloody-mindedness. That’s how the acclaimed poet Tony Walsh described the stuff Martin Hibbert was made of after taking on the challenge of climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair back in June…
Gabby has been by Martin’s side throughout his journey, which began when he and his daughter Eve sustained life-changing injuries during the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in 2017. So, if there’s anyone who knows what role bloody-mindedness has played in his recovery, she does. And if anyone has seen how deep he’s been prepared to dig to achieve the things he has, she has.
We were delighted to sit down with both Gabby and Martin, our vice president, to hear more about their journey – and why Gabby might just deserve a medal too…
Q. When did you two first meet?
Martin: She’d always been someone I’d noticed. After I split up with Eve’s mum, I made some discreet enquiries about who Gabby was.
Apparently, she’d been making enquiries about me too! We were set up on a lunch date but I had to stand her up because I was on a work phone call. I ended up running after her car, introducing myself and asking for another chance.
Q. We’ve learned a lot about what happened to Martin in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack. What are your memories of that night Gabby?
Gabby: Martin had sent me a couple of pictures during the evening. At about 11pm, Martin’s mum Janice called saying something had happened at the arena. I switched the TV on. Sky News were reporting that there had been an explosion at the arena, that there were fatalities. I just couldn’t get hold of him.
We rang around hospitals. After a couple of hours, Janice heard from Eve’s mum Sarah to say that Eve was alive. We then found out Martin was in hospital. When we got there, we were told Martin wouldn’t be able to walk again. We’d spent four hours not knowing if he was alive or dead so just hearing he was alive was such a relief.
The surgeon was about to operate on Martin and was asking me questions for the consent form. He asked what religion he was, and Martin suddenly spoke. He said ‘Jedi Knight’.
As soon as I heard him say that, I thought, he’s here with us, he’s okay – everything was going to be alright.
Q. Can you tell us more about the weeks and months which followed?
Gabby: For the first two weeks his mum and I stayed in the hospital. I’d get up, sit with him and just have mundane conversations. He was on so much medication and hallucinating a lot of the time. We were just surviving.
Martin: The first thing I remember is Gabby telling me that Eve was still alive. That was enough. I’d made peace in the
arena that I wasn’t going to get out of there. But here I was in hospital, alive.
The surgeon was just about to operate on Martin and was asking me questions for the consent form. He asked what religion he was, and Martin suddenly spoke. He said ‘Jedi Knight’.
Q. Martin, you and Eve sustained life-changing injuries from a senseless act of violence. How do you cope with that aspect?
Martin: I’ve never been angry about it. If Eve hadn’t survived, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to. Of course, I’m gutted for her that we’ll never know the person she could’ve become.
She’s the only person in the world to survive her injury. I’ll probably never walk Eve down an aisle, and she’ll probably never have children. But I get to see her and have conversations with her every day. There are 22 families who weren’t so lucky. Of course, as a dad it hurts that someone has hurt the most precious thing in my life. But I’ve been brought up the right way and I’m using all that hurt for the greater good now.
As a dad it hurts that someone has hurt the most precious thing in my life. But I’ve been brought up the right way and I’m using all that hurt for the greater good now.
Q. After a spinal cord injury, roles within families often change. How have you all adapted to that over the years?
Gabby: I didn’t cope very well. Nobody gives you any training. He was released from the spinal cord unit, and we were left to our own devices. We couldn’t go back to our old house as we needed to find an accessible place. Martin had to be sent to a nursing
home with patients who’d suffered traumatic brain injuries. His own mental health really started going downhill.
Gary Dawson from SIA was an amazing support not just for Martin but for me too. He reassured us that what we were going
through was normal. I was crying out for someone who wasn’t embarrassed to have conversations about things like bowels and
bladder care. Gary helped us both so much.
Q. What were your initial thoughts when Martin first suggested climbing Mt Kilimanjaro?
Gabby: I don’t think he actually told me; I just began hearing lots of conversations about it. Readers will now see that I deserve a huge medal for the patience needed to live with Martin!
My worry was what it would take out of him. Since his injury, he’s been admitted to hospital six times with UTI’s which turn into sepsis. I just thought, why do this to yourself after everything you’ve been through?
Q. Tell me about the climb itself. Were you able to keep in touch with each other?
Martin: I was very focused. I’d quickly check in with Gabby to tell her I was fine, but I didn’t want to lose the focus by hearing about anything back home.
Gabby: We’d have a quick chat and I was happy knowing he was safe and ok. I am learning to put trust in other people who can look after him.
Q. Two key members of the team had to leave the expedition. How did you cope during the tough parts of the climb?
Martin: I listened to music like the soundtrack to Somewhere In Time – the music is orchestral and beautiful. It takes me to a place where I feel safe and happy.
We’re immensely proud of him but on a day-to-day basis, it’s just the same, you don’t really think about it – it’s just Martin.
Q. Getting to the summit at Gilman’s Point was obviously an incredibly emotional moment for you. What are your memories of it?
Martin: Because of altitude you only get 25-30 mins when you get to the top. The important thing for me was to scatter my mum’s ashes [Janice sadly passed away in November 2021] and to play our song.
Q. You had many reasons for taking on this climb – What will be your lasting legacy?
Martin: It’s not been done yet. I won’t stop until everyone with a spinal injury gets the support they need to lead a fulfilled life. The revolution has started! What this climb does is elevate my story, my profile so one day I’ll be able to knock on the door of No. 10 and say this isn’t good enough. Invest in disabled people and look at what they are capable of doing.
Q. Gabby has been a huge part of this adventure. What has this tidal wave of support and love meant to you Gabby?
Gabby: We’re immensely proud of everything he’s done but it still seems quite surreal. On a day-to-day basis, it’s just the same, you don’t really think about it – it’s just Martin. Kili was such a huge challenge and now we’re just living our lives. And looking forward to our holiday!
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