'I count myself lucky... it could have been a whole lot worse'

By Shauni James -
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Laura Stuart (right) doesn't like to dwell on the past. Photo / Stephen Parker
Laura Stuart (right) doesn't like to dwell on the past. Photo / Stephen Parker

Laura Stuart doesn't like to dwell on the past.

Doctors have told the 29-year-old lawyer she is unlikely to walk again, yet she remains optimistic about her future.

In one of a series of inspiring Facebook posts since she crashed while mountain biking, breaking her neck and back on February 12, she says: "I count myself very lucky as things could have been a whole lot worse. I am excited about all the possibilities that the future may bring - pretty much like starting with a blank slate and getting to choose a cool new life direction".

She went on to ask friends for suggestions of "awesome things that I could dabble in".

"I am thinking sailing would be fun but I am sure there are many other adventurous activities out there." From her hospital bed in Auckland's Spinal Rehabilitation Unit, Ms Stuart told the Rotorua Daily Post about her ideas for the future.

A friend had given her a book on sailing and kayaking was also a sport she was considering, she said.

She said she wanted to get a four-wheel mountain buggy to keep riding the trails where she was injured.

Some people even suggested she should learn how to do a back flip in her wheelchair, Ms Stuart said.

Ms Stuart was moved from Auckland's Middlemore Hospital on Wednesday and is now in the rehabilitation unit, where she has her own room and a view of the gardens.

She recounted the accident that severed her spinal cord from the ribs downwards, and led to her T4-T7 vertebrae having to be bolted together. She said she was biking with friends on the Riff Raff trail in the Whakarewarewa Forest when they went down a particularly steep part that she misread.

She came off the bike, flew in the air, and went down a bank. She remembers "flying in the air" and wondering if she would hit a tree.

Ms Stuart landed first on her head, breaking her helmet, then on her back, which is when she lost all feeling in her lower body.

I'm fine, it's just a different change of lifestyle I'll have to get used to.
Laura Stuart

One of her friends went to get help while the others stayed with her, she said. As she was not concussed, she remembers everything.

It took about two hours for the emergency services to find them, as there was no four-wheel-drive access on to the trail, and the ambulance crew had to find the trail and walk in, she said. The rescue helicopter also had trouble finding the accident site from the air. Eventually Ms Stuart was winched out and flown to Middlemore Hospital.

She said she was still trying to work out who was part of the helicopter and ambulance crew so she could thank them.

As well as the neck and back injuries, she also broke multiple ribs.

Despite her experience, she said she wouldn't want others to be put off riding the trail.

She now has no movement from the chest downwards and rehabilitation will focus on managing her new lifestyle.

She said doctors had told her it was "unlikely" she would regain movement below her chest.

"They wouldn't tell me never." Ms Stuart said she had not really started the rehabilitation yet in terms of getting out with the physio.

"I spend my whole day in bed." She is trying to get the full capacity of her lungs back with breathing exercises and doctors make regular tests and check to see if any feeling has returned.

"I'm fine, it's just a different change of lifestyle I'll have to get used to." She said she'd had so much support from friends, family and the biking community.

Her employers, local law firm Blackman Spargo, had been really supportive as well, she said.

Ms Stuart is also a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters and a member of Revolve Rotorua women's mountain biking club.

She said the Rotorua Mountain Bike Club was looking to fundraise for a First Response Unit, so that a team was able to get into the forest faster.

"They really need people who know the forest and can get in quickly to the scene in the forest."

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