World’s strongest disabled woman who lost arm in crash opens Durham gym to help other amputees

When Rebecca Slater’s car skidded off the road, she suffered life-changing injuries.

Rebecca lost her right arm after her car skidded on black ice in 2017 but following the life-changing injury at the age of 21, Rebecca was determined not to let it stop her. She focussed on her fitness and has since gone on to be crowned the World’s Strongest Disabled Woman in 2021 and 2022.

Along with the world titles, Rebecca also holds multiple world records and hopes to help other amputees after opening a gym that caters for disabled people with her partner, Dan Thomson, in Durham City.

READ MORE: Disabled mum unable to use the oven for a year in her specially adapted home

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Rebecca, who is now aged 28, said: “I lost my arm and shattered my ankle at the same time. I had a lot of surgery on my leg to repair my bones. I went back to rowing and ended up racing with my crew that I used to row with. I raced with one arm and able bodied crews.

“I fell into a strong man, I did cross fit for a bit but it affected my leg. I got a message from another woman who said ‘Have you ever tried it?’

“July 2021 was my first competition. It is a sport I found is the most inclusive, it is open to all disabilities.”

Rebecca, has travelled the world, competing in competitions in Canada, Iceland, England and America. She also holds five world records in the deadlift, two in Atlas stones – one single armed and one with strap, the Monster Dumbbell and Shield Carry, where she is the first one armed woman to ever do it.

As well as competing, Rebecca and her partner Dan, who is a war veteran, have now opened a gym in Durham City that has specially adapted equipment to cater for disabled people. The Legion Strength and Fitness opened in October at the Belmont Industrial Estate and has already proved popular with people.

Rebecca, who works as a pharmacy technician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, said: “We’d been talking about it for a while. We decided on it when we travelled to compete in America, but we realised there were no strong man gyms in Durham but there were also no strong man gyms in the UK that were fully accessible.

“The way we’ve laid the gym out, you can get around if you have mobility issues or a wheelchair. We have a specialist adaptive kit made for people with disabilities. There is nothing else like that that a strong man in the UK.

“We thought we would take the bull by the horns and jump into it. It has been really well received and lots of compliments in the kits, especially the adaptive kit. There’s a lot of things you can train one side at a time, so if you are injured or have disabilities you don’t have to use the whole machine, it splits into two.

“There’s a girl who is a disabled strong man as well and she travels at least once a month to use our kit.”

Dan Thomson and Rebecca Slater
Dan Thomson and Rebecca Slater

Dan, 41, who was in the Light Dragoons completed a tour of Afghanistan in 2009, said: “We hope to help other disabled people in the area get back into some sort of training. We have a lot of specialist kits.

“We have a lat pulldown board specially designed where the seats move out of your way so you can wheel in with your wheelchair, there is a special low level ice bath made, there is a sauna with an oversized ice bath.

“There is a leg press that can split so if you are a lower leg amputee you can work it with that one leg rather than having to try and do both. There is a special chair for seated athletes to use. “

Dan hopes it will benefit people from all backgrounds, not just athletes.

He said: “I know how much the gym benefits people’s mental health and helped me, so off the back of that we decided we might be able to help some people.

“It is really beneficial for your real life even if you don’t want to be a weightlifter. People who want to improve their quality of life at home, if they are strong and can transfer from their chair and you can lift and carry stuff yourself in the house.

“A lot of people become reclusive when they’ve had major trauma, there is a big social aspect.

He added: “We have opened this up and want to help as many people as possible.”

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