Making sure her bright yellow L plates are in place, Sophie Delezio jumps behind the wheel of her family's specially modified car and cheerily waves goodbye.
The 17-year-old loves to hit the road, and has bravely tackled the task of learning to drive like every other challenge in her life – with grace and more than a pinch of her trademark determination.
Sophie even clocked up the required 120 hours for her NSW licence in a speedy eight months by driving to and from school on weekdays, as well as trips around Sydney on weekends, with one of her parents – Ron and Carolyn – or a carer in the passenger seat.
"I'm in heaven as long as I'm the one in the driver's seat and in control I just love to drive," she grins. "I enjoy the way it makes me feel – free!"
Freedom means everything to Sophie, the beautiful little girl in bandages and fairy wings Australia fell in love with as she recovered from not one, but two near-fatal childhood accidents.
Nearly 15 years ago, a car ploughed into Sophie's daycare centre and burst into flames, causing burns to 85 per cent of her body and costing the then-two-year-old most of her skin, her right ear, the fingers of her right hand and, along with both lower legs, her mobility.
Then, in 2006, Sophie was hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing and suffered bleeding on the brain, which took away her sense of smell.
But the miracle survivor has never settled for sitting still, or having fewer choices than her peers.
Although occasionally reliant on crutches and her trusty red wheelchair, she owns three pairs of prosthetic limbs – one for flat shoes and sneakers, and two with adjustable soles so she can wear 5cm and 10cm heels.
They hurt if worn too long – and can't be worn at all if her thigh has been harvested yet again for skin grafts – but dogged Sophie continues to build up her muscle strength in order to stand tall whenever she can.
Her swoop of brown hair is another example of true grit. In her pre-teen years, an agonising series of operations to stretch her scalp with a tennis ball-like object allowed hair follicles to be implanted.
Then a girlfriend's suggestion to have hair extensions before the year 10 school formal proved a revelation – Sophie found a "genius hairdresser" and is delighted with her now thicker and longer tresses.
Most Saturdays, the keen rower ties her mane back in a ponytail and competes in a single scull. She also "adores" acting in musicals and stage productions, puts in four-hour shifts several times a week at the checkout of her local Coles, and is working towards leaving home next year for a uni course in England.
There is still ample downtime to spend with her friends – who've affectionately dubbed her "the social addict" – and play with her six-year-old assistance dog Willow, who shares her bed.
Nothing can dampen her sense of adventure.
In November last year, she leaped from a plane over Queenstown, NZ, with a look of sheer joy on her face.
Since that first, not even the stress of working towards the HSC has managed to bring Sophie back to earth.
"I'm always telling myself I need to crack down and study, but I'm also here to live life, and the busier I am, the better!" she says, crediting her school for her relaxed final-year attitude.
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To help support critically injured children like Sophie, visit dayofdifference.org.au
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