Injured woman looking to the future

By Shauni James

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Laura Stuart.
Laura Stuart.

Two weeks ago Rotorua's Laura Stuart crashed while mountain biking, breaking her neck and back. She is unlikely to walk again. She tells reporter Shauni James what happened that day and why she's excited about what the future may bring.

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

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

In one of a series of inspiring Facebook posts since her accident 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 it was kind of like having a blank slate in terms of where she would live and what kind of job she would have in the future.

Her 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 so that she could ride the trails still.

Some people even suggested she should learn how to do a backflip 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 with rods.

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 had quite an impact on landing, landing first on her head and breaking her helmet, then on her back, which is when she lost all feeling in her lower body.

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 Grade 5 trail - described on Ride Rotorua as "gnarly with steep dropping corners, big rooty sections and some challenging drop-offs".

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 still come in for the likes of taking blood tests, checking her blood pressure and checking to see if any feeling has changed.

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

She said she had so much support from friends, family and the biking community. Her employer, local law firm Blackman Spargo, had been really supportive as well.

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.

Meanwhile, deputy mayor DaveDonaldson this week met with Rotorua Mountain Bike Club committee members, Rotorua Trails Trust and Peak Safety. He said the mountain bike club committee members asked for the meeting to discuss starting a mountain bike patrol. They have been invited by ACC to consider applying for funding to implement a pilot for a mountain bike patrol in the Whakarewarewa Forest.

"We met to discuss it and agreed it is a great idea."

It was Mr Donaldson's understanding the club would proceed with an application.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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