Belfast Telegraph

Gymnast left a quadriplegic by training accident vows to defy doctors and walk again

By Donna Deeney

One year after a training accident left gymnast Jennifer Smyth a quadriplegic, the determined teenager has vowed to walk again.

The 17-year-old has now returned to the Shooting Starz gym to spend time with the friends she said had inspired her to get on the road to recovery.

It is an incredible journey of recovery and courage, given that Jennifer was only able to blink yes and no answers to questions a year ago.

Before then, she was a rising star at the gymnastics club in Londonderry. But tragedy struck as she descended from a vault in the middle of a training session.

The Eglinton girl knew straight away she was in trouble because she couldn't feel her legs. She called out to her coach for help, but the full extent of her injuries were only realised after she was rushed into theatre.

Faced with a mountain of injuries, Jennifer's gritty personality drove her from the outset, ensuring she remained optimistic about her future.

The brave teenager told the Belfast Telegraph: “Really, the first thing I remember after the ambulance came was waking up in the intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital and not being able to move anything other than my eyes.

“I stayed at the Royal for four weeks before I was moved to Musgrave hospital to begin my rehabilitation.

“There was one bad day and that was when I was told by my consultant that I couldn't go to my school formal, which was the same day they told me my legs weren't going to improve any more than they had.

“I did get a bit teary-eyed then, but I told my teachers at the hospital school and they brilliantly suggested we had a formal up there. My own school, Limavady Grammar, organised a minibus to bring 10 of my friends up to Musgrave and there was someone to do my make-up and hair and I put on my formal dress and had a wonderful time with my friends.”

Jennifer then set herself the goal of being back home in Eglinton in time for her birthday, which she managed to achieve with flying colours.

Her refusal to give up saw Jennifer throw herself into hours of physiotherapy, which has given her back some movement in her upper body. Even more impressively, it has also helped her return to both Shooting Starz gym and Limavady Grammar.

She said: “I go to see all my team-mates at the gym and do my own specially adapted training with them every Friday.

“And at the start of this month I went back to school too. I was nervous because I didn't want anyone to treat me any different to the way they treated me before, but they were fantastic.

“People have been incredibly supportive and there is even a fundraiser this weekend to get me a new wheelchair and a hand bike, which is basically a bicycle that is operated using your hands instead of feet because that is a sport I can do.

“I am determined to enjoy my life and I will do everything I can to make that life as normal as possible.”

Quotes

“In the very beginning the only way I could communicate was through blinking — once for yes and twice for no — until I got the tubes out and gradually the muscles that allowed me to talk were strong again.

“In those early days I don't ever remember getting down in the dumps for anything more than an hour or so.

“I just really looked forward to see my visitors and hearing all the news.”

Inspirational Limavady Grammar student Jennifer Smyth, who has refused to give up after an accident left her quadriplegic

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