Wheelchair-bound Smith still setting records

The SJA has just accepted the membership application of PAUL SMITH, the first wheelchair-bound sports photographer to cover the FA Cup final. Here is his story

Paul Smith had always been extremely active. Serving in the Royal Navy, he played football, hockey, squash, cricket and rugby, he ran for the Navy in the inter-services cross-country race, as well as running marathons, and he even held the record for racing to the Top of the Rock in Gibraltar.

But Smith also had to fit in his sport around his service, which took him around the world, and also saw him on active duty in the Falklands and the first Gulf campaign.

Smith was so fit, that he even competed in the Royal Naval field gun race staged annually at the Royal Tournament at Earl’s Court. Until a fateful few days in 1991.

It started with a fire at the house next door to the Smiths, where Paul went in to help rescue his neighbour and her three children. Three days later, Smith was returning to his ship in Plymouth after completing a season with the Portsmouth field gun crew. The Navy officer was in a hurry, and probably ought not to have tried to overtake on a blind bend.

The resulting crash saw Smith suffer serious head injury and damage his spine chest and hip. He was left in a coma-like state for the next 10 years.

Smith, who will be 50 later this year, describes what followed as a “slow fight back” from his injuries, which includes his taking up photography in 2003.

“I became a professional photographer in 2005 and have covered many events, including the women’s FA Cup final, the Champions’ League final in Paris, Twenty20 Cricket finals, Cowes Week and the Around the Island Race,” Smith says.

“In May this year, I became the first wheelchair disabled photographer to cover the FA Cup final at Wembley. I am very proud of this achievement.

“My photography has helped my recovery tremendously. I have been able to maintain the state of health that I find myself at today due to the excitement and sense of achievement from day to day. Not only is my photography a form of income, I also try to support good causes throughout the UK and a charity in Peru.”

According to his wife, Jane Smith, Paul has raised £28,500 for charities through the sale of photos and photo books in the last 18 months.

“There are many challenges for someone in a wheelchair,” Paul Smith says, “but I believe that if given a level playing field I can compete with everyone and in a good hearted manner.

“I have met some fantastic photographers who have only been too happy to give advice and on some occasions their time to help me out. To them I say ‘thank you very much’.”

SJA MEMBERS: Make sure your profile details are up to date in the 2009 SJA Yearbook by clicking here