Inspirational disabled sailor Hilary Lister dies aged 46

Hilary Lister loved sailing

Hilary Lister, the first quadriplegic sailor to cross the English Channel, has died aged 46.

Mrs Lister, who lived in Dunkirk near Canterbury, first made international headlines in 2005 when she crossed the Channel in a specially adapted boat.

It allowed her to steer the vessel by blowing or sucking down one of two straws which controlled the tiller and the sails. The journey took six hours and 13 minutes.

Two years later she sailed round the Isle of Wight in just over 11 hours and then in 2009 she completed a solo trip around Britain.

The journey lasted from May 21 to August 31 and was subject of a BBC2 documentary called A Race Against Time, which premiered at the Marlowe Theatre.

Mrs Lister was born Hilary Rudd in Oxfordshire in 1972 where her father was a vicar and her mother a professor of biochemistry at Oxford University.

She was able bodied until the age of 15 when she sat down on a train platform one day because her legs hurt and never stood up again. It transpired that she was suffering from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a rare degenerative condition.

Mrs Lister studied biochemistry at Oxford and began her PhD at the University if Kent, but never finished because a briefcase containing much of her work was stolen from her car. Her condition then worsened.

In 1999, she married local singing teacher Clifford Lister. The occasion was especially poignant as the doctors didn’t give her a long time to live.

Mrs Lister was operated on numerous times, and briefly regained a little movement in 2016, but never regained full movement and was consigned to a wheelchair her whole adult life.

She controlled her house with voice-activated commands and a chin switch which could open the front door and answer the phone.

Mrs Lister could never have children. Alex Lister, son of her husband Clifford, said: “My stepmother was the definition of an inspirational woman. I never heard her complain once about her condition or the hand life dealt her.

“Instead, she turned a challenge into an opportunity and achieved things able-bodied people can only dream of.

“Her strength of character and desire to make the world a better place for others is a huge source of motivation for me personally. If I can make half the positive impact on the world that she did, I will be a very happy man.”

Mrs Lister’s list of awards includes:

  • Winner of the Vitalise “Woman of Achievement” Award, 2009
  • Winner of Breast cancer Breakthrough Aspirational non-celebrity, 2009
  • Winner of the Cosmopolitan Superhero Award – Cosmopolitan Fun & Fearless Women Awards 2007
  • Winner of the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration – Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards 2005
  • Winner of The Royal Cruising Club’s Seamanship Award 2005
  • Winner of A Woman of the Year 2005-2006 – Women of the Year Charity
  • Winner of Woman of the Year 2006 – New Woman Magazine

Mrs Lister’s Dream Trust was established to help adults who are disabled or financially disadvantaged to fulfil their sailing dreams. Log on to in order to find out more or donate to it.


  1. Hilary learnt to sail at Westbere lake with Westbere Sailing Opportunities set up by the late David James OBE. The centre continues to operate on Thursdays and Fridays throughout the summer, Easter to October with approximately 1000 user sailing sessions per year. The centre has a number of specially modified dinghies and is run entirety by volunteers .


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