News

Tongala’s motocross rider rebuilding life after fall

By David Rak

People thought she was dead and when Tongala’s Christina Vithoulkas finally regained consciousness there must have been terrifying moments that she wished she was.

The extroverted 24-year-old freestyle motocross rider had just mistimed a jump in South Australia’s Riverland and crashed. Badly.

Fiance James Wild watched the whole thing: ‘‘She just folded like a taco’’.

‘‘I thought she was dead,’’ Mr Wild said.

‘‘I just started screaming at her to wake up. She was unconscious for about a minute-and-a-half and unresponsive for about three minutes afterwards, but it felt like an hour-and-a-half,’’ he said.

The fall had completely severed Ms Vithoulkas’ spinal cord.

And then it got worse.

She woke screaming in pain and with no feeling in her legs.

As soon as she reached the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the air ambulance doctors discovered the full extent of damage — Ms Vithoulkas had also shattered several vertebrae, lacerated her spleen, punctured her lungs, broken her ribs and torn several ligaments in her neck and shoulder.

Mr Wild, also a freestyle motocross rider, said the whole accident was something he could never un-see.

It was September 29 at a friend’s property when it all went wrong.

‘‘She came down and hit her head and bent the opposite way,’’ Mr Wild recalled with a shudder.

‘‘When she started talking, she told me she couldn’t feel anything from her waist down and kept asking me ‘why can’t I feel my legs?’ and ‘why is my back so sore’?’’

A six-hour operation saw 12 screws and two rods inserted into her back to straighten her spine.

Ms Vithoulkas said learning she would never walk again was not as shocking as some might think.

‘‘The first question I asked the doctor was if I would ever walk and they said there was no chance,’’ she said.

‘‘It was obviously heartbreaking but I had partially accepted that it was my reality before I got the news.’’

The conversation that lifted Ms Vithoulkas’ spirits came when she asked if she would ever be able to have children.

‘‘It would have broken my heart if I wasn’t able to have kids. Thankfully the answer to my question was ‘yes’ and I’ve been rebuilding from there,’’ she said.

‘‘As soon as I knew my dream of starting a family was still intact, nothing else mattered.’’

Ms Vithoulkas used her family dream as her motivation to keep a positive attitude and make a speedy recovery.

‘‘The recovery is going really well and my pain has nearly disappeared besides a bit in my back. I’m adapting at home and doing a lot more than I thought I would be able to do,’’ she said.

‘‘I had all my family breaking down when I was in the hospital and they couldn’t understand how I was smiling and staying positive.

‘‘I’m lucky to be alive. I’m pleased I’m able to sit here and have a conversation with my friends and family.

‘‘I have had so much support from people locally, nationally and internationally. I have no reason to be upset because I’m grateful to be alive and have some movement.’’

The support poured in for Ms Vithoulkas after her accident, with a GoFundMe page raising more than $100000.

‘‘I can’t explain how important the support has been. I still get daily messages from people,’’ Ms Vithoulkas said.

‘‘I recently received a donation from the Kyabram Car, Bike and Tattoo Show, which blew me away.

‘‘All these people who don’t know me have donated or offered to help in any way they can. It’s amazing and I’m extremely grateful to be surrounded by this generosity.

‘‘And words can’t describe how important my fiance has been throughout the whole experience. He has been here every step of the way.’’

Ms Vithoulkas said her injuries had not affected her love of motorbikes and she had plans to be back in the seat in the next 12 months.

‘‘The doctor said I need to wait 12 months before doing anything strenuous so I’ve got a bit of time yet, but my goal is to complete a race on a modified bike,’’ she said.

‘‘Rochester Motorcycles donated an electric start bike and James is doing modifications. The gears and brakes will be on the handlebars so I’ll be back at it.

‘‘Other than my bike, my other goals are to get back to work, get married and start a family.

‘‘GAME Traffic and Contracting have modified the office so I can get back to work. I’m still working on a date for that but I’m excited to get back into it.’’

While her life has had a dramatic change, Ms Vithoulkas said she did not regret her decision to jump on her bike.

‘‘It’s a high-risk sport and I accepted the risks when I started. I had a previous back injury from coming off my bike where I was lucky to walk away,’’ she said.

‘‘The messages I have received telling me how inspiring my recovery is have pushed me to show more people that a wheelchair doesn’t mean the end of your life.

‘‘I am determined to prove to people that you can have a full life no matter what the world throws at you.’’