JUST two weeks ago, triathlete Lauren Parker felt at the peak of her powers. She was training for 35 hours a week and had her eye on a place on the podium at the Ironman Australia Triathlon in Port Macquarie this weekend.
But now, the 28-year-old just wants to be able to walk again following a freak accident on a routine early morning ride.
The Fletcher triathlete has had no feeling from the waist down since she crashed into a guard rail while travelling about 45km/h during the training session near Raymond Terrace on April 18.
She sustained broken ribs, a punctured lung, broken scapula, broken pelvis and a broken back and has been given a one per cent chance of walking again.
“We were about 40 kilometres into the ride apparently, because I don’t remember this and I was told by my training partner that we were just riding along as normal and my front and rear tyre both burst at the same time,” Parker said.
Parker does not remember much about the accident.
“This does not happen. It’s a freak accident. It never happens.”
“All I can remember is laying on the road on my back, a lady holding my neck, who had stopped in a car alongside the road, and I was in so much pain,” she said.
“I couldn’t breathe, I thought I was dying. I couldn’t breathe because I had a punctured lung … I was in that much pain.”
Parker was rushed to John Hunter Hospital where she had emergency back surgery to restore blood flow through her spinal cord.
When she woke up she was told she had a one per cent chance of walking again.
“I feel like I’ve lost my whole life,” a shattered Parker told the Newcastle Herald.
But the brave Novocastrian was trying to stay positive and was determined to defy the odds.
“I know I want to do everything I can to be able to walk,” she said.
The reality of what has happened was still sinking in for Parker, who recorded a second placing at the 2015 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
“I just keep hoping it’s a dream but it’s not,” she said.
“My whole life is being active … my life is just filled up with being fit and healthy and active and I just can’t do that any more. I feel like I’ve lost everything that’s about me, which is the hardest thing.
“And my only dream is to be able to even just walk again. I don’t care about running, just being able to walk again.”
Parker said police at the scene could find no trace of why her tyres both blew.
“The police arrived before the ambulance and the police and my two training partners were all just looking at the ground, trying to figure out what had punctured my tyres, but there was absolutely nothing on the ground,” she said.
“They even looked at my tyres and there was nothing in them, they had just burst. It was a brand new bike with brand new tyres, so it’s such a terrible, freak accident.”
Parker was flown to Royal North Shore Spinal Cord Injury Unit five days after her surgery and will spend three months there before being moved to a specialist spinal centre in Ryde, where she could spend up to 12 months in rehabilitation.
“I’ve started my rehab physio sessions, I’ve had two this week,” she said on Saturday. “At the moment, I’m not doing a lot because of my broken ribs and shoulder.”
She had no feeling from her naval down and felt “quite dizzy” when she got into the wheelchair after laying down for two weeks.
“I go to gym and do some light weights on my arms, some pulleys, just to get rotation in my arms and keep that rotation,” Parker said.
“The other day they got me out the chair in the gym and they sat me up and they told me they were going to take their hands away from me and I had to balance myself sitting up and I was able to do that for seven seconds.
“It’s quite hard because I have no feeling from my belly button down, so it feels like I have no balance. They’ve said if I keep doing that I’ll be able to increase seven seconds to eventually one minute and so on. But that’s just the start.”
Parker is already researching options for the future, including travelling to the United States where stem cell therapy is being used “on patients like me”.
Her mum Anne has been by her bedside since the accident and has taken time off work indefinitely.
They have been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support from the community and by friends setting up a gofundme page to help with medical costs.