Olympic dream for former Dingwall Academy PE teacher Melanie Woods after horror accident
When Melanie Woods was paralysed in a horrific accident, she refused to accept her life was over and turned to sport, she tells Alasdair Fraser...
AS she lay broken by the roadside just outside Ardersier, PE teacher Melanie Woods could hear paramedics’ voices pleading with her to wiggle her toes.
She could hear them, but sheer terror prevented her from doing anything.
To do so would have been to acknowledge that something quite terrible was wrong, something far more awful than the mere pain of impact from the car that had just hit her and her bicycle from behind.
Melanie, face lit by ambulance blue lights but eyes tightly shut against the sight of her injuries, wasn’t ready for that – not yet.
It would be the last time fear, of any shape or form, would overwhelm this courageous young woman.
Through long months of painful, often painstakingly slow steps towards recovery, the 25-year-old – now back in her native Glasgow – has shown incredible positivity in rebuilding her life, focusing her energies on a possible future career as a para-athlete.
After moving north from her home near Loch Lomond to work at Dingwall Academy, the unthinkable happened in January 2018. On a cold, bright sunny day, she took the fateful decision to go for a spin on her bike.
Reaching the edge of the village, she had just made to turn back for Inverness when an elderly woman driver somehow failed to see this brightly-clad figure, with bike lights ablaze.
The horrific impact left the previously highly-active university graduate paralysed from the waist down by a spinal clot. With a shattered leg, back and pelvis, she was told by doctors she would never walk again.
“I worked in Glasgow for a year, but wanted a change of scene and took a post at Dingwall Academy three or four months before the accident,” Melanie recalled.
“I was living in Inverness and I remember thinking what a nice day it would be to take the bicycle out. What happened wasn’t something I’d ever considered likely.
“I was always very careful and looked around if I heard a car approaching from behind, but it isn’t something I remember doing on this occasion. That’s probably because I don’t remember the incident exactly as it happened, although I stayed conscious throughout.
“The roads were quiet and I just remember taking a thump. Then I was lying on the grass verge realising, pretty quickly, my injuries were bad.”
Admirably, she displays no hint of recrimination towards the motorist.
“There was an element of denial. The ambulance staff kept asking me to wiggle my toes and I kept ignoring them. It wasn’t something I wanted to consider. I knew the implications,” she said.
Seven months in hospital followed after transferring from Raigmore Hospital to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital’s spinal unit in Glasgow, with her spine and leg stabilised with metal fixings.
“A big part was learning to live life independently again. I’ve found a side to me I didn’t know existed. I’ve managed to find positives in what happened, because there are so many to take,” she said.
Having goals each day and learning how to do something as simple as getting in and out of bed by myself became the small gain and victory.
“It was tough on my friends and family, who have been fantastic. That was probably the hardest part. My mum and dad [Pamela and Alan] had just seen me graduate. They initially feared there was no life for me now. I’m here to show them there absolutely is.”
The idea of becoming a para-athlete came while watching the 2018 winter paralympics in Korea on hospital TV.
“All these amazing people with severe disabilities were doing incredible things,” Melanie recalled. “I thought ‘wow, I can still do sports’. I tried out a racing wheelchair and then I started training full-time with my own chair from June last year.”
For now, the dream of being a paralympian is distant, but early progress is encouraging.
“It has been all about coming through my first season, getting times on the board and discovering where my track and road strengths lie,” she said.
“I’m drawing confidence from my baseline times and that’s got me a bit excited about coming back next season with a bit more experience.”
Rallying behind her, friends have carried out crowdfunding to help with the high costs of equipment and competition.
Melanie completed a three marathons in three days charity challenge in Scotland, learned how to sit-ski in Colorado and was invited on a training expedition in Tenerife.
Inverness pal Mairi Brooman continues to co-ordinate crowdfunding for wheelchair racing.
Melanie added: “Paralympics is high-end, elite sport.
“My ambitions are really high, but I would hate to mis-sell what my goals are at the moment.
“The dream is paralympics, but that is a very long way away.”