When we spoke with Emma Carey, she was sitting in front of a killer view while on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. She had likely been for a stroll right before our chat because she’s an adventurous soul who loves to explore.
Five years ago, however, Emma wasn’t able to go for a quick stroll to take in a view. She couldn’t even stand. Because at 20, Emma – who is now affectionately known as the girl who fell from the sky – was in a skydiving accident that left her a paraplegic.
“It was very nearly five years ago now. I was backpacking around Europe – it was going to be about a three-month trip, I wasn’t sure – and it was the fifth day, when we got to Switzerland and we were going skydiving,” Em told Smooth.
“I was really excited for it, always wanted to do it. So, not nervous at all. I was with my best friend Gemma and we went up in the helicopter, we jumped out and I just remember it was the most epic feeling, I absolutely loved it…”
While the rush of free-falling from a helicopter over the Alps was a thrill to begin with, when Em realised she and her instructor weren’t slowing down, that “epic feeling” quickly turned to dread.
“I didn’t really realise that it was going wrong at first because I’d never done one [skydived] before. I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know how it was meant to feel. But then the closer we got to the ground, I noticed very quickly that something was wrong…
“We were getting closer, he [the tandem skydive instructor] wasn’t responding to me and we were just going straight down.”
What had happened was that the emergency parachute had become tangled with Em’s regular chute and they had strangled the skydiving instructor, causing him to pass out.
The pair plummeted to the ground, eventually landing – Em on her stomach and the instructor, on Em’s back. They were found by Em’s friend Gemma, who called for help right away.
What followed was two operations in three days, and a month in a Swiss hospital, with Em too sick to do anything more than lie back and heal.
While the young woman had come away from the accident with her life, Em was told the spinal injuries she’d suffered meant she’d permanently lost the use of her legs.
“They [doctors] just said yeah, she’s a paraplegic, she’ll never walk,” she explained.
Fast-forward four months and a whole lot of rehab in a Sydney hospital, however, and Em was defying odds and taking steps once again. A year and a half later again, and the girl who fell out of the sky was walking without aid.
When we asked her what that felt like, she said:
“It was obviously something that I had been doing for 20 years of my life, and I never thought I was lucky to do so and I was never grateful for it. It was just a given that I could walk. And so, to be able to do that again and to be so grateful for each step and to realise how much easier it makes life… yeah, it was a really good feeling. Especially because they were pretty certain it would never happen.”
Although Em has (incredibly) regained the use of her legs, there are many other ways in which her life has been forever changed. Physically, she is still unable to feel her legs and has been left incontinent (something she’s completely open about). And mentally, she says that she’s “not even slightly similar to who I was before my accident”.
But while the journey has been long and difficult, Em simply cannot see her story as a sad one:
“Because I survived the accident when I was certain I was about to die, I had such a new perspective and outlook and appreciation for surviving, and I really didn’t want to waste that. And again, when my legs were getting better. I just felt so, so lucky. It wasn’t really a sad thing because I’d been lucky to survive and then lucky to learn to walk so it was more positive… well, that’s how I saw it, anyway.”
“How can I be upset when every day I get to walk around and I get to use my hands and I don’t need a carer? It just puts everything into perspective.”
And while we’re on the topic of perspective, let us leave you with this…
When we asked Em what the one thing she wanted people to take from her story was, this is what she said:
“Especially for young girls, I would just want people to take gratitude and appreciation for their bodies. Because we can tend to look at our bodies for what they look like, rather than all of the things they can do for us. People can think, ‘Oh, my legs are really fat,’ rather than, ‘Oh my god! I have two legs that let me walk and let me run’
“… It’s very hard to hate yourself and your body when you love everything that it does for you.”
Sobering, isn’t it?
You can learn more about Emma Carey and her journey here.
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