Six years ago Amanda dived off her surfboard without her hands up. It was something she always did. But she hit a sandbar and broke her neck.
It was six days after the birth of her daughter Ziggy, a sister for three-year-old Lola.
Amanda been at the beach with a Spanish friend, Miguel, and Lola. She was taking him for a surf while waiting for a paraglide off the Mount. She'd sworn to her partner Gemma that she'd just show him a good time for a couple of days then be by her side looking after her and their new bub.
Now Amanda was helpless, facedown, holding her breath, calling out in her head “Look up Miguel, look up Miguel". Then she felt herself being turned over. “I could see the sky, I could breathe and I wasn't dead. Miguel cradled my head in his elbows with his hands under my armpits and pulled me gently through the water toward the beach. Other people had stopped to help and they put me on my surfboard and dragged me up the beach. Someone called an ambulance. I could hear Lola crying out for me in the background”.
“Everything was so clear. In the Emergency Department I remember telling the crew not to cut my bikini because I really liked it, and somehow thought that I'd be wearing it again next week”.
The day before she’d been climbing down naked from Lola's top bunk. “I'd looked at my body - it was brown and six-packed. I thought to myself it was a good body, a strong body. I loved my life. Every day I'd think how blessed I was and I made the most of the incredible environment we lived in. I was in the water rain, hail or shine, either kite-surfing or stand-up paddle boarding, and I rode my bike everywhere, usually with Lola between my arms”.
For 20 years Amanda had been a chef, half of them as owner operator of her own thriving cafe/restaurant. She'd travelled the world, worked on super yachts, walked 840km across Spain in the Camino de Santiago, was a gardener, a yogi, a motorbike rider and kite-surfer. “My future was exciting as I'd just begun the transition to a new career in academia with the completion of my masters. A new life began the moment I broke my neck”.
After the accident it was touch and go if she would survive, and if she did survive, they didn't know if she would have any functionality in her body.
But as Amanda is fond of saying “You can’t kill a weed" and she fought back with everything she had. After ten days in ICU she was moved to the spinal unit, and after three months she was home. “I was so weak- to be so frail was tough".
She was given a power-chair but she gave it straight back. She chose to have a manual wheelchair because she wanted to push herself, get strong, so she could be as much as she could for her family.
At the spinal unit Amanda recalls watching the Wheel Blacks training and thinking “I don’t want to play disabled sport...I don’t want to be defined by my disability"
Back home in Tauranga she met Neil Cudby, a fellow board member of Parafed Bay of Plenty who are running the Festival of Disability Sport. He got her to hold her arm up, checking out her triceps and told her that she needed to play Wheelchair Rugby – and more importantly that his team needed her to play!
So, six months on from her accident, Amanda got into a rugby wheelchair. “I didn't realise how important it would be to roll into a space where you buggers with legs are the odd ones out!” “There is an unspoken understanding and comradery when we hang out with other wheelies. I don’t need to explain anything, no-one asks about the accident, they have all been there; they get it. We just push hard - be rough-compete”. “It was while playing wheelchair rugby that I forgot I was in a chair, I was having so much fun- what a gift. My family can come a watch me be super-competitive and having a ball, and most importantly, my kids meet other families with Mums and Dads in chairs – it helps our family create a new normal. I am not defined by my disability, sport frees me!”
"I'm a member of Parafed because I want to encourage as many people with disabilities to play sport as possible. To any disabled people who are sitting at home not being active, I say get off your butt and give it a go!"
“If you are interested to learn more, call me! I will gladly chat to you about Parafed and the sporting opportunities available to you. And, on the off chance, you are a tetra/wheelie with hand function – WE NEED YOU in our Steam Rollers team. I have 14% body function and I can catch but I can’t bloody well throw. If you can throw call me – NOW!”