NEVER GAVE UP: Anna Kelton, from Barnard Castle
NEVER GAVE UP: Anna Kelton, from Barnard Castle

TRIBUTES have been paid to an ex-servicewoman from Teesdale whose battle to overcome a crippling condition touched a prince.

Anna Kelton, of Barnard Castle, died peacefully in hospital on August 31, aged 30. Miss Kelton was serving with the Royal Navy when she was injured during a training exercise in 2011. She was later diagnosed with a conversion injury which caused her to lose the use of her legs, her full sight despite it partially returning and occasional memory loss.

Miss Kelton was a much-loved daughter of Anthony and Dorothy, sister to Luke and a devoted fiancee of James Croxford.

Mr Croxford, 34, described Miss Kelton as “the strongest, most inspirational and determined woman” he had ever known.

He said: “Every day Anna would wake up in complete agony. Any normal person would probably want to just sit there yet she would put her face on, as she put it, and push her body further and further. That was her through and through. She would not stop.

“Lots of people would say how inspiring she was. She would say she wasn’t. She was very genuine in that way. She just wanted to walk. That was her goal.

“Instead of pushing boundaries she shattered them to pieces. She was inspiring and mesmerising. She was unbelievable.”

Since Miss Kelton’s death, the family has received thousands of messages of condolence from people all across the world including a letter from Prince Harry.

During treatment for her injury and while serving with the recovery cell HMS Drake, in Plymouth, Miss Kelton proved her determination and rowed to double victory at the first Invictus Games in 2014.

The adaptive multi-sport event, which is championed by Prince Harry, saw injured servicemen and women from 12 different countries compete against each other in nine sports. Miss Kelton returned home as a double gold medalist and was presented with both of her medals by Dame Kelly Holmes.

Prince Harry recalled Miss Kelton’s medal winning performances.

He wrote: “Anna personified all that the Invictus Games stands for. Her resilience in the face of her diagnosis and her determination to overcome it and live life to the fullest is what made her such a well-liked and respected member of the UK Invictus Games team.

“She was known for her consistently positive attitude and beaming smile – her interest in the welfare of others and caring concern for all made her particularly special.”

At the end of 2014, Miss Kelton was medically discharged from the military. She was also chosen as one of 30 Invictus Games competitors to pick up the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year show.

Old Well

She was welcomed on stage by Prince Harry to receive the accolade which is awarded for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity.

Despite her strength, the effects of Miss Kelton’s injury worsened in the months following the Invictus Games and she was eventually wheelchair bound for four years. However, this did not stop the former Barnard Castle School pupil from living life to the full.

Miss Kelton will be remembered for her empathetic manner and joy of life despite her own daily struggles.

Mr Croxford said: “Sport was a big thing for her. It kept her going. From not being able to feel her legs she developed the feeling back. In the last few months of her life, she had started to walk again but that was just Anna.

“Over the last two years she had been pushing herself beyond belief, never giving up on anything.

“I could see the pain she was in. I knew when she was really struggling but she made me really proud. Even though you could tell it was getting to her, nothing would stop her.”

Miss Kelton carried out a lot of charitable work and was involved with Sporting Force and A Smile For A Child. She also supported Help for Heroes and was involved with Waterloo Uncovered which combines world-class archaeology with veteran care and recovery.

Last year, Miss Kelton took part in The Clique’s Boxing Day Dip in the River Tees to thank the Barnard Castle-based charity for covering

the cost of her gym membership.

This was to be part of her training for this year’s Invictus Games, which will take place later this month in Sydney.

Mr Croxford said: “It wasn’t until the last six months that she realised how inspiring she was to people.

“She didn’t go out of her way to be inspiring, it is just me being me as she put it. She touched so many people with her infectious smile. She will be missed greatly and has left a gaping hole in all our hearts.”

Miss Kelton’s funeral service was held at St Mary’s Parish Church, in Barnard Castle, followed by interment in Barnard Castle cemetery.