How do you cope and look to the future when, as a 16 year old, a freak gymnastics accident results in a spinal cord injury and being told you will never walk again? This was the reality for Newcastle teenager Aimee Fisher in December 2017.
Now nearly five years later this Aimee has certainly moved on with her life and is happy to talk with SCIA to, in her words, “to share some of my experiences to help others on the same journey.”
“Acquiring a spinal cord injury is instantly lifechanging and it takes time to reimagine and redefine yourself and what your life looks like moving forward.” says Aimee. “For me there was never any other option in my mind but to push through the situation and do what I needed to achieve to be able to return home and continue achieving my goals. Another athlete once presented me with the thought that acquiring an injury young meant that you could adapt to the situation before embarking on your adult journey post school. I was able to focus more on finding ways to adapt to my immediate surroundings before looking to the future with the same goals I had always had, with an open mind, skills, and experience to find sometimes creative ways of making my goals accessible.”
In sharing her experiences Aimee adds, “Most of my greatest challenges in the last few years have stemmed from people’s perceptions of my capabilities as a permanent wheelchair user. I have often been told ‘I can’t’ because I’m in a wheelchair. I hope by pushing through the challenges I can change others’ perceptions to view the wheelchair as a part of us, not a barrier – to see the person, their skills, and goals. You will always find people along your journey who will tell you that you can’t, but you have to stay determined and focused on your goals and find the people who acknowledge your injury as part of you, rather than a barrier, and help you work on how you can achieve those goals. If you have a goal or a dream keep pushing over the hurdles and don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.”
When we discussed how she moved forward with her life Aimee told me “Some of the best information about living with a spinal cord injury will come from people who are going through the same experience. Through learning skills from the experience of others and having the support of the people closest to me I was able to return to school and complete Year 12, begin studying at university, gain independence in my life skills, and return to sport, along with a long list of other goals I set myself in the hospital and continue to add to.”
Proving doubters wrong, Aimee has gone on to study medical sonography at Central Queensland University – a course designed for a future role in the medical profession using medical imaging technologies. Ironically, when I spoke with Aimee, she was in the middle of a clinical placement at Royal North Shore Hospital, the hospital with the specialist spinal unit where she was airlifted to on the day of her accident by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
“Apart from my determination to return home and continue on with life I needed to find something to ground me” Aimee added. “I surrounded myself with people who supported me and then sport, which I had always loved and participated in, became my anchor point.”
In the early times after her injury, Aimee remembered a talk that wheelchair racer Christie Dawes had given at her school. This sparked her interest in the way sports she had previously engaged in could be adapted and the thought that she could somehow return to these was extremely motivating. At a low point, when she felt like she would never again be able to do the things she loved, she recalled a response from a doctor in hospital who said to her, “Yes, you can Aimee, just in a different way.”
Now 21 years of age Aimee Fisher is continuing to pursue her dreams, always trying to keep a positive ‘can do’ attitude. In the five years since her life changed this determined young woman has returned to the gym where she became a paraplegic, spending time coaching, judging and training others; started para athletics and competed internationally; learned to snow ski and travelled overseas to do so; danced again at her dance studio; encouraged the involvement of other children with disabilities to get into sport; learnt to drive with hand controls; and set herself up to live independently in Sydney after leaving her Newcastle home town.
She is continuing to achieve her goal of competing at the highest level in para-athletics. Since she climbed into a racing chair alongside sporting legends Louise Sauvage and Madison De Rozario, just six weeks after her accident, Aimee has had her mind set on wheelchair racing. Now under the guidance of well-known paralympic coach Andrew Dawes, she competes in the 100m, 200m and 400m T54 wheelchair events and is the current Australian open 100m and 200m T54 champion. Next goals include the World Championships and the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.
That message about doing anything ‘just in a different way’ has always stuck with Aimee.
“Thanks to the people around me and a lot of hard work I have been able to become an independent young adult. I have achieved most of the things I set my mind to when I was lying in that hospital ward – I just had to be a little more adaptive and creative in my approach. This is a message I want to share with others as I continue my journey and I hope others in a similar position to me can take this on board to achieve their dreams.”
Words by Peter Murray, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia
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