Rhiannon Tracey is determined not to let her spinal cord injury prevent her from living life to the fullest.
The Thomastown resident was left a quadriplegic following a pool accident in Bali almost seven years ago.
Ms Tracey was on holiday with her mum and best friend in September, 2009, when she dived into a swimming pool. The end she dived from had deep water but the sides were shallow and she hit her head.
The accident, two months before her 21st birthday, left Ms Tracey with a broken neck and back.
Ms Tracey had surgery on her back and neck in Bali, but on her return to Melbourne had to have surgery twice more to correct what had been done in Bali.
She credits her family, particularly her mum, for getting her through her darkest days following the repeat surgeries.
“I knew nothing about spinal cord injuries and what life was going to be like,” she said.
“When I was having those dark days, [mum] was up in my face. From when I woke up from my surgeries, she showed me videos of quadriplegics riding horses and living life.”
As part of her rehabilitation, Ms Tracey turned to social media to connect with other quadriplegics. She discovered a centre in the US that uses intensive exercise therapy to treat spinal cord injuries.
“The facility treated me as an athlete who was injured,” she said.
“The idea is that they work the body in the hope that things start to wake up. On my last day, I walked out of there.”
While the intensive rehabilitation had given Ms Tracey the ability to walk with crutches, she began to find that she wasn’t enjoying the quality of life she had hoped for.
Taking the next step
On her return to Australia, she decided to open a centre similar to the one in the US that had treated her, in the hope of helping other people with spinal cord injuries.
In 2014, she co-founded Thomastown’s The Next Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Centre.
Ms Tracey is also an official ambassador for the Wings For Life World Run, which aims to raise money for research into spinal cord injuries.
The run will take place in 34 cities around the world at the same time on Sunday. The Melbourne event will take place along the Monash Freeway from 9pm.
More than 100,000 runners and wheelchair competitors from around the world are expected to take part in the event.