Cyclists rally for injured rider

By Shauni James

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Laura Stuart when she was mentoring children as part of a Big Brothers Big Sisters initiative.
Laura Stuart when she was mentoring children as part of a Big Brothers Big Sisters initiative.

The Rotorua community is rallying to support Laura Stuart - a keen mountain biker and Rotorua Bike Festival event organiser who has been seriously injured while riding.

A festival spokesman said the show had to go on following the accident on Friday evening - the eve of the festival's opening weekend.

Ms Stuart, 29, was winched out of the Whakarewarewa Forest with serious spinal and neck injuries and flown to Auckland's Middlemore Hospital, where she had surgery on Saturday.

A Middlemore Hospital spokeswoman said yesterday she was in a stable condition.

BayTrust Rescue Helicopter base manager and pilot Barry Vincent said the chopper got airborne just after 6pm, but it was difficult to find the accident site from the air.

He said the area was heavily covered with vegetation and the information that rescuers were getting was limited.

"It was like looking for a needle in haystack."

Mr Vincent said the group of mountain bikers Ms Stuart was with were riding on a trail running off Forestry Rd. The track was about another 500m up a gully, he said.

Once the group was found, a St John intensive care paramedic was winched into the site to help another St John medic who made it in on foot.

Mr Vincent said it took 20 minutes to prepare Ms Stuart, and once she had been winched out they landed, stabilised her again, and then flew her on to Middlemore Hospital.

She was conscious when picked up, he said.

Ms Stuart, a lawyer, is a member of women's mountain bike club Revolve Rotorua, who are organising this Wednesday's Dipper Dash event for women.

In a Rotorua Daily Post story earlier this month, Ms Stuart said the event aimed to encourage woman to get into mountain biking.

A post on Revolve Rotorua's Facebook page over the weekend said "Arohanui Laura, we are all around you, with love and support".

Ms Stuart is also a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rotorua, who support children in the community.

Big Brothers Big Sisters posted on its Facebook page on Saturday evening, with an update from Ms Stuart's partner.

It said the surgery "went as well as it could", and the fractures in her neck had been stabilised.

"However, there is major damage to the T6 T7 vertebrae in her spine," it said.

Earlier, the group had asked people to "please pray for our lovely mentor and friend Laura Stuart".

"Our thoughts and prayers are with you Laura and with your family and friends."

Rotorua Bike Festival media manager Graeme Simpson said everyone's thoughts went out to Ms Stuart and her family.

"I think anything like this is always a bit of a shock."

He said everyone involved with the festival was thinking about Ms Stuart but "they would like to see the show go on".

"That's how we are approaching it."

Ms Stuart has been working at Rotorua firm BlackmanSpargo (Rural and Commercial Law) for the past 18 months.

"Her accident for us here at BlackmanSpargo was a real shock to the staff," Sandy Van Den Heuvel, one of the firm's partners, said.

She said Ms Stuart came to Rotorua because of the mountain biking as that was her passion, and was a valued member of staff who had thrown herself into community activities.

"Like everyone else, our thoughts and prayers are with her."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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