IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Survived Burns Over 65 Percent Of My Body With the Love of a Boyfriend Who Stood By My Side

I'm grateful and honored to be chosen as the cover girl for Australia's highest circulation magazine.

Jul 22, 2014 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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All of my confidence and self-belief was ripped away from me when I was trapped in a grass fire during the 2011 Kimberly Ultra Marathon -– receiving burns to 65 percent of my total body surface area.

The fire engulfed me. When I first woke up a month later in hospital, I didn’t actually realize the extent of my injuries. I spent six months in the hospital, where I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t brush my hair and I couldn’t even take myself to the bathroom. Depression sunk in because I was an ultra-athlete and now I couldn’t even walk a single step. I realised that to get through this I would have to readjust my goals. I would have to be content with achieving the little things. Taking a single step. Climbing a stair. Raising my arms. As Rodger Halston once said: “When you work on the little things, big things happen.” 

When I get asked to describe the pain of the fire, I can’t find the words. Six other people were trapped in the fire with me, and we stay in touch because of our bond. I do know that the pain of everything that came after the fire was far worse. I call the hospital my dark days because I really was at my lowest of lows. At the start, my burns did affect my self-esteem at the start -- significantly. 

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Before the fire

I had one main inspiration since the incident. His name is Sam Bailey, a farmer who also happens to be a quadriplegic. He has written a book, and I read this during my recovery phase and it gave me strength to go on. I have always had the view that we should make the most out of our circumstances. I’m just applying the same principle now. My recovery was more like a roller coaster, one day I would have a lot of energy, and I would push myself really hard in physio, the next day I would lose that drive and cry.

It’s taken years, but I’m finally at the point where I was before the fire. This September marks the third anniversary.

My life has changed dramatically since the incident.

Before the fire, my partner Michael and I lived up north and I was an engineer working on the mines. Now we live on the South Coast, and I am a motivational speaker. I’ve lost independence, most of my fingers and my appearance is completely altered. Some things have stayed constant though: my wonderful partner, my beautiful family and my incredible mates.

Michael and I have been together for six years. The first thing that went through my mind when I was trapped in a fire was about Michael and how we were suppose to have a life together. I felt robbed. 

But he has stood by me throughout. I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful partner. I honestly could not have done the journey without him. Our relationship has definitely changed. We went from being boyfriend and girlfriend to something so much deeper. I have so much respect and gratitude for Michael because he really has been there for me.

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I go back to hospital for operations but thankfully I usually only need to stay overnight. Overall, I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything. Every life decision that we make takes us on a different path. When you take a new job that is a decision that changes your life forever.

My perspective on life has changed. I’ve realized how precious life is and how important friends and family really are. I’ve also learnt that we are all so much stronger than we can ever know. 

This year I have done a cycle from Sydney to Uluru, a 20km swim in Lake Argyle and I have walked the Great Wall of China to raise money for Interplast, which is a charity that provides free reconstructive surgery to people in developing countries. So they could perform surgery on people with cleft palate, women who are victims of an acid attack or even other burn survivors. My plastic surgeon also volunteers for Interplast on an annual basis, so you can understand why I feel so close to the cause!

I’ve just returned from trekking the Great Wall of China with a group of 20 extraordinary women. Our group raised close to $200,000 which is a phenomenal effort for this inaugural event. Next year we will be taking on the Inca Trek and we hope to raise even more for this worthy organization. Pushing myself to exercise doesn’t hurt anymore than it used to. I have so many goals that I’m afraid I will run out of time to achieve them all! 

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It’s an absolute honor to have appeared on the July cover of the Australian Women Weekly. When the editor told me of her choice, I was stoked -– and also very proud to be an Aussie. I had no idea what an impact it would make –- spreading to countries like Germany, Spain and Mexico (and even Malyasia!). I’m really grateful for the messages I've received from people, and I’m also really thankful. I don’t really see myself as inspiring. All I’m doing is living life to the best of my ability. Everyone has been incredibly proud, but I think everyone has been reading a bit too deep into it.

It’s an honor to be the cover girl of the weekly; that’s why I accepted.

At the end of the day, I think beauty is having confidence, walking tall and looking people in the eye. Beauty to me means standing up straight, having confidence, looking people in the eye and having the ability to look in the mirror and think, “Yep, I look damn fine today.”

The message I would give to people struggling with facial difference is this: If you don’t have a problem with it, they won’t.

My motto in life is "Never give up."