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Today is the 20 year anniversary of the accident that changed my life

Today is the 20 year anniversary of the accident that changed my life

By Clare Sultmann

I’ve blinked and 20 years have gone by.

I can still see her. That girl. It’s 20 years ago but it may as well have been last week. It’s as if I can almost reach out and touch her. She looks happy, content, satisfied, invincible, and that is how she feels. At 23 years old, she’s worked hard to get where she is; a lawyer working at a multinational firm in Sydney, living in the iconic Bondi Beach. Fit, tanned, young. She had so much promise. The world was hers for the taking. She was me. On the 17th of August 2000, I went to bed as that girl.

I woke on the 18 August 2000, and like so many things, habit takes over. I am still that girl, yet work drinks are long gone and the daily routine of starting with a 10km run (no matter how cold) was the first item on the agenda for the day. I am a creature of habit and routine is paramount. It’s all so clear. It’s cold. I remember that. Should I go or shouldn’t I go for a run were the thoughts that went through my head as I dragged myself from under the sanctuary and warmth of my doona and looked out the window. That one decision….What if I hadn’t gone? I’ll never know. I went. That decision changed my life forever.

20 years on and I can still remember the clothing. The leggings, the gloves, the old t-shirt. It didn’t take long to warm up but the first 5 minutes of the run were always the hardest. I remember it well. I proceed to cross over on a pedestrian crossing a couple of hundred metres from my apartment and I look both ways and step out. A garbage truck rounds the corner and by the driver's own admission fails to see me and so keeps going. It stops but on top of me, both of my legs bearing the full weight of the truck.

What happened from there is well known and I won’t rehash it. You can read my story which is now a book ‘Standing On My Own Two Feet’ which documents what comes next.

Fast forward to now. A 43-year-old woman has replaced the 23-year-old girl. It’s almost too hard to reflect on some of the early days, months, and even years following on from the accident. The memories are there- some too painful to ever forget- but that is what they are; memories. Nothing more and nothing less.

The down days are now long gone. Sure I live with my injuries and the repercussions of my accident every day. I walk with a limp, have scarred and disfigured legs, ankles that don’t move; a knee that doesn’t bend and legs covered in skin grafting. I live a life in pain yet I have in so many ways forgotten what not being in pain feels like. I grin and bear it. I have for 20 years and it’s working well.

I live a life now; apart from the physical differences to the one that I would have hoped that a 23-year-old girl was on track to lead. It’s been a long, hard road. It’s been a road that at times has been filled with heartbreak, devastation, despair and sadness. But it’s a road that has never been traveled alone. The support and love I have received from my parents, my friends, my family, and so many others has lightened the burden that seemed often too much to bear. It’s a road that has sought resilience, overcome adversity and found solace in the power of the human spirit. It’s a road, which has ultimately led to the profound knowledge that faith, and a deep belief in self will overcome even the most challenging of obstacles. 

It’s a journey that I never expected to take yet it’s one that I am profoundly grateful for, as it has led me to where I am today.

 

I am many things now. Perhaps most significantly I am a wife and I am a mother of 3 beautiful children. I am a former Barrister at law, a Master of Laws graduate, published author, a founder of a women’s networking site and I am in the Board of a national Charity. I am a trauma survivor. Oh and I’m the Mayor of Noosa. My first foray into politics was running for the Mayor of Noosa (where we now live) and I was, with the help and support of so many, successful in my bid to be elected the first ever female Mayor of Noosa. I have been in the job just over 4 months and my husband and I still have to remind ourselves at times that I did in fact win and I am now the Mayor.

If I could stop and ask that 23-year-old girl walking towards the bus stop around 9:00pm on Thursday 17 August 2000 where she would like to be in 20 years and what she would like to be doing, I am not sure what the response would be.

I wonder if I told her what was about to happen if she would really believe it? If I told her that all she would have to endure over the next 20 years would lead her to the place I now find myself would she think it would be worth it? I don’t know what she would say. I hope she would say yes. She doesn’t have a choice as to what will happen to her over the coming hours but she has a choice as to what she does after that. How she picks up her life and gets on with things. How she handles the adversity that will deliver such a sickening and life-changing blow. That choice is hers. That choice is mine. That choice is all of ours. Our adversity doesn’t define us. What we do with it and where we go from what happens to us does. Choose wisely; for one day, you may just get the life you always dreamed of. You may just have to take a different road to get there.

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