I Fractured My Spine At The Gym And This Is What I Learnt

Despite being relatively small and insignificant to the naked eye, behind this tiny scar lies much more than an intricate assembly of titanium. It hides tears of fear and frustration, unfathomable physical pain, struggle and disappointment, determination strength and an unrelenting stubbornness to not let it affect my life.

In January 2013 after a freak accident at my local gym (sweaty palms caused me to slip off a high pull-up bar mid-kip) I lay in a hospital bed terrified that I was never going to walk again. My diagnosis at the time was hard to fathom. I had sustained an unstable burst and chance fracture to my thoracic vertebra requiring immediate spinal surgery to stabilise; a fractured skull, dislocated shoulder and mild traumatic brain injury, which caused me to lose my sense of smell for six months. Without surgery there was little chance I would be able to walk again.

I spent only a week in hospital, however the recovery was much longer. Adjusting to home life was a struggle. It’s not until you physically are incapable of moving without pain that you realise how much you have taken your body for granted. I couldn’t walk further than 50 metres without debilitating pain. Regardless, that did not stop me trying. The day I made it around the block was one of celebration.

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I sported a Jewett brace for five months and had to accept the fact that I wasn’t able to exercise; general life tasks, like getting out of bed, a chair, and in and out of the car were hard enough. As the time dragged on I became more impatient and probably drove my physiotherapist insane. As soon as the brace was removed I increased my activity, more than my physio liked, pushing myself harder than she felt I should. I was sent me back to my surgeon who put me on a complete activity restriction for a further three months. After nine months I was allowed to swim – only twice a week, and for no longer than 30 minutes. At my 12-month surgical follow-up I was finally was given the all-clear to get moving again. I threw myself in and god, it was hard. After months of inactivity and poor mobility due to the surgery, I was a shell of my former self. Then there was the pain.

It took a couple of years to start trusting my body again and recognising good pain from bad. To not burst into tears when trying something new. Or beat myself up for feeling weak and useless, and like I was never going to be the same again. Sometimes, I would push myself too much physically, other times I would push too much psychologically. My life became about finding balance. How to dance on the edges without letting myself fall in. Bit by bit I fought my way back. I learnt to accept the emotions, acknowledge them and allow them to wash over me. I learnt to listen to my body, to rest when I needed, to stop when I needed.

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We all have moments in life that push us back, that change the direction we thought we were going in. It’s how we cope with that change that will define how we move forward. I chose to make the best of the worst situation – lots of things in my life had to change as a result. There was so much turbulence for a couple of years, which at times felt unbearable. I hung on for dear life (as did those around me) and then when the turbulence finally settled I realised this:

It has been a tough slog, but never along the way did I allow myself to give up. There were so many valuable lessons I may never have learnt had the accident not happened. And although frustrating – had it not happened I would have graduated from my physiotherapy degree last year – I also would never have opened two gyms, nor be surrounded by an amazing community of unbelievable people, who inspire me every day.

Despite not knowing what the future has in store for me or my spine, and with the impending fear of further surgery, this little scar is a constant reminder to live my life to the fullest, to push my boundaries and enjoy every day that I have on my legs, because in the future I may not have the same opportunities I do today.

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