PARALYMPIAN Aaron Phipps helped Hampshire Chamber of Commerce celebrate a half century of involvement in the Southampton Boat Show.

The wheelchair rugby player, who competed at the London 2012 Paralympics, gave a motivating speech at the chamber’s annual Boat Show lunch, a highlight of the organisation’s busy social calendar.

Addressing more than 100 business leaders, Aaron shared his thoughts on staying resilient and making positive choices in the face of challenges.

The 35-year-old, from Totton near Southampton, explained how he had spent two weeks in a coma aged 15 when he contracted meningitis and had to have both his legs and most of his fingers amputated.

“I got into sport doing the 26th Totton 10k race,” he said. “I was the only person doing it in a wheelchair. They gave me a five minute start and although I came last I enjoyed it so much I decided to try other races.”

After competing in the 2006 London Marathon, he intensified his training, returned the next year and brought his performance time down by half an hour to under two hours.

Developing an interest in wheelchair rugby, he was headhunted by the Great Britain team for his speed and determination, and went on to play at London 2012, narrowly missing out on a medal position.

“I trained really hard,” said Aaron. “I wanted a spot on that team so badly. I really had fire in the belly.”

Aaron has now come out of ‘Paralympic retirement’ to prepare for a possible place in Team GB at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

The father-of-two joked that “marriage-mortgage-elite athlete” was probably the wrong order to take in life but then wowed the audience further with an insight into his charity work for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

This has led to him being the only disabled British person to have climbed Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, unassisted.

Because of difficult terrain on the higher slopes, he was forced to leave his wheelchair, strap knee pads to his legs and crawl on his hands and knees for four days to reach the summit.

Putting the subject of resilience in the face of challenges into a business context, Aaron said: “We all have choices no matter what we do. Making a positive choice, rather than a negative one, can have such a powerful effect. Don’t underestimate the power of your brain.”

Thanking Aaron, Hampshire Chamber’s Executive Chairman Ross McNally said: “Business leaders are often asked what it is that drives them on. Aaron’s remarkable life story really shows the importance of resilience and being motivated.

“It was especially pleasing to have such an inspiring speaker as our special guest as we celebrated our 50th year of involvement with the Boat Show.”

The lunch, held at the Grand Harbour Hotel, was sponsored by Havant-based facilities management provider Norse South East.

Rupal Thakrar, Norse’s Graduate Business Development Manager, said: “It is wonderful to be supporting Hampshire Chamber. They co-ordinate and stage so many great events for the business community. The Boat Show lunch is an excellent networking opportunity and Aaron was such an interesting and inspiring speaker.”

A raffle held at the lunch raised more than £750 for the Meningitis Research Foundation.