Champion diver finds her feet after spinal injury

"It's very traumatic and you've got to work really hard but there is hope, there is hope." Picture: DARREN HOWE

"It's very traumatic and you've got to work really hard but there is hope, there is hope." Picture: DARREN HOWE

It was three years ago on Thursday that Bree Mellberg’s fledgling diving career was brought to a sudden and traumatic end.

After taking up the sport at 15 and making it all the way to the Junior World Championships in 2008, the then 22-year-old broke her neck in a freak accident at a trampoline centre.

She would never dive again, but after years of hard work and rehabilitation Bree can once again stand on her own two feet – and is even back playing sport.

The feat is all the more remarkable given the accident initially left her bedridden.

“My mum was my full-time carer, she pretty much started off doing everything for me,” she said.

“I’ve now moved out of home, so I'm living independently, I’m going to university and I've started playing wheelchair basketball, so for me they are really, really big leaps and bounds from where I started.”

Practising for a competition at the Bendigo Aquatic Centre in 2008. Picture: BILL CONROY

Practising for a competition at the Bendigo Aquatic Centre in 2008. Picture: BILL CONROY

Bree said taking up a new sport had been an important step in her long recovery.

“Being so active and then going to not being able to do anything, it is mentally very, very challenging, it’s not only a traumatic injury for yourself but for all the people around you,” she said.

“It was very challenging to do a lot of things, to feel very trapped in your body, I feel that playing wheelchair basketball helps with that, it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush, it feels like I'm able to do a bit more, gives me a bit more freedom.

“I do miss going out for a run, I miss going down to the pool and having a dive but I feel that I’ve tried to replace those with other positive things in my life so it doesn't feel so much like a loss and more like just doing things a little differently.”

Speaking ahead of Lucky I’m Alive Day next week, Bree said despite her injury, she did indeed feel lucky.

“Most days, yes I do, I still have those days where it’s really tough and you have those really rough days but on other days I know I'm very lucky to be alive,” she said.

“I feel that my quality of life has improved immensely and I think with the mental challenge that came with pushing through this injury, my quality of life is, mentally, the same if not better than before my injury, so I'm really happy with where I am.”

These days, Bree is firmly focused on the positives in her life, and proud of what she has achieved.

“I'm very shocked actually, I never thought I’d be able to get as far as I have now,” she said.

“It’s amazing how much you appreciate your quality of life when you lose it and you start to really appreciate the little things that you can do.

“Moving out of home [was] a really big thing, for someone in their 20s it doesn’t seem very relevant in their life at all but for me it was a massive, massive achievement.”

Lucky I’m Alive Day is on Saturday, January 30 at 90 Victoria Street, Eaglehawk between 11am and 2pm with all proceeds going towards Victorians with spinal injuries.

Visit www.f97.com.au for more information.

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