Record-breaking disabled sailor who grew up in Northamptonshire dies at 46

Hilary Lister
Hilary Lister

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

Hilary Lister, who passed away on August 19, attended Yardley Gobion Primary School while her mother Pauline Rudd worked at a secondary school in Milton Keynes; her father Revd Colin Rudd worked for TocH in Milton Keynes.

She was paralysed from the neck down and became famous for pioneering her 'sip and puff' steering system with which she controlled her yacht by blowing and sucking through plastic straws.

Her sad but proud mother – now Professor Rudd – admits that her heart is broken but she would like Northamptonshire people, especially in Yardley Gobion, to know what Hilary achieved and recognise all the help and support she was given there.

Pauline recalls that Hilary won a competition at primary school for decorating a paper plate with a photo of the family surrounded by different coloured beans.

Her best friend was Nicola Battley and together they spent hours cooking ‘gruel’ over campfires.

They are forever grateful to Mr Waterford who never minded answering Hilary’s myriad of questions, especially about Egyptology.

Hilary, 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.

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.

Hilary formed a charity called Hilary’s Dream Trust to help adults who are disabled or disadvantaged to fulfil their sailing dream.

Her funeral will take place at St Michael’s Church in the village of Hernhill close to Faversham in Kent at 2pm on September 18. There will be a memorial service at Jesus College Oxford in due course.