I was a wet night in spring 2014 when my life changed for ever. The rural roads near my Dorset home were flooded and the tarmac slick. I was on my way home with my then-boyfriend Chris when a 4x4 driver pulled out in front of us. He swerved to avoid our car, but we skidded through a fence and into a field, where we landed upside down.
Instantly I knew something was wrong with my legs – they looked normal but I couldn’t feel them. My arms wouldn’t move either. I was flown by air ambulance to a hospital in Bristol. I was told I’d fractured three vertebrae in my neck and one had shattered into my spinal cord. I was sent to surgery where my neck was bolted and stabilised.
When I woke up the next morning, my whole family was at my bedside looking pale and tired. They later told me they were warned I might not survive the night. I had, but medics said it was unlikely I’d walk again.
During those first few days, I veered between feeling groggy and angry. I was 22 and I’d been excited about my future. My career as a shop manager was going well and I had plans to go travelling, but that one moment had taken it all away.
I was transferred to a spinal treatment centre at Salisbury Hospital and over the next few weeks the movement in my arms returned, but my legs remained lifeless. It was tough to remain upbeat, not knowing what my future would be. But I knew that I had two choices: be bitter or deal with my new life.
Three months after the accident, a local wheelchair rugby team came to the hospital. I felt cautious, but one of them, an ex-Team GB player, was so encouraging that I agreed to give it a go, and gingerly hauled myself into a specially adapted rugby wheelchair. The simple act of throwing and catching balls was exhilarating. I came away smiling.
From that day on, wheelchair rugby was a huge part of my life. My disability meant I couldn’t return to work and I struggled to find somewhere to live without stairs, but throughout, I had my rugby. Joining a team in Bournemouth and going on to win the national championships gave me confidence – and hope. I also had amazing teammates rooting for me, which was such a boost. My family had never been into sport before then, but they were there for all my games.
A couple of years after the accident, I moved into a bungalow and started a new part-time job as an administrator at a GP surgery. I also plucked up the confidence to join some dating sites. Chris and I had broken up shortly after the accident and I’d been wary about dating, but I met a lovely man called Nick and we bonded over our love of ’80s rock music. Within weeks we were inseparable – he’d drive me to my rugby fixtures and cheer me on – and in the summer we got married, with my teammates looking on.
Five years after my accident, I’ve been through a lot, but wheelchair rugby has made me feel truly alive again and helped me count my blessings.