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Real Life

Real life: I fell seven metres from a balcony and lived

AJ Pouoa, 38, Auckland, NZ was determined to live life to the fullest after a freak accident changed her life forever.

By Take 5 team

AJ Pouoa, 38, Auckland, NZ shares how she turned her life around after a tragic fall:

Clenching my hand into a fist, I punched the bag as hard as I could.
I'd only started boxing three months earlier but had taken a real liking to it.
I had a fight scheduled in the coming month and spent all my spare time training for it.
My goal was to enrol in a personal training course the following year, so staying fit was a priority.
I still found time to socialise with my mates, though.
I want to inspire others to never give up. (Photo credit: Woman's Day NZ)
One night, after a rugby league party, a bunch of us headed back to a friend's to have pizza and a few drinks.
"I don't normally dress up like this," I joked, pointing at my high heels, which was worlds away from my usual trainers and active wear.
A mate and I went out to the balcony to have a chat.
We were on the third floor, which had a view of the city spread out before us.
Feeling relaxed, I leaned against the railing.
Next thing I knew, I was toppling over, landing on the ground seven metres below.
I heard voices around me but before I could speak, I blacked out.
Waking up in hospital, I saw my cousin, Leva.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Memories flooded back: I'd been on a balcony, I'd fallen, but I was still alive.
"Yes," I replied, before passing out again.
I'm determined to live life to the fullest. (Photo credit: Woman's Day NZ)
Later, when I came to, doctors told me the full extent of my injuries. I had a cracked skull, brain haemorrhage, a fractured rib, punctured lung and my spine was broken.
Mates came to visit me.
"You fell all the way down into a construction site," one explained. "It was fenced off, so us girls had to tear down the barricades to get to you."
"Thanks," I smiled.
Despite everything, my heart was warmed by hearing how dedicated my friends were.
As for my broken spine, surely it would heal with time.
I'll be fine, I told myself. I'll walk again.
I was convinced this whole accident was just a minor hiccup and that I'd be back home in no time.
But when I was transferred to the spinal unit a week later, the doctor had bad news.
"You're never going to walk again," he said sombrely, explaining the nerve damage was too great as my spine had broken completely.
I burst into tears, willing the earth to swallow me whole.
I wanted to get my life back. (Photo credit: Woman's Day NZ)
What did I have to live for?
My mum, Lagomau, was very supportive.
"Lots of people are praying for you," she said.
Although she meant well, her words didn't console me. My whole world had changed in a single incident and I had no idea what I'd do next.
In the end, the only way for me to cope with it was to push my future to the back of my mind.
Going through rehab was so gruelling that I couldn't think much beyond the next minute, anyway. There was no choice but to live in the moment.
I had to relearn how to do everything from going to the loo to shaving my legs. Just using a wheelchair was tricky, and it took time to figure out how to manoeuvre it properly.
My house was also being renovated and fitted with a lift to be wheelchair-friendly.
After four months in hospital, I returned home.
Taking the lift and using ramps to get from room to room made me realise just how different my world had become.
I used to be so active, effortlessly springing up and down the stairs.
I love helping others reach their goals too. (Photo credit: Woman's Day NZ)
Thinking back to my old dream of being a personal trainer, I wondered if there was any possibility that could still be my career – I'd never heard of a PT in a wheelchair.
But to my surprise, Fit College, the institute I'd always wanted to attend, not only accepted me, they gave me a scholarship!
Suddenly, my mind was racing with ideas.
Strange as it might sound, my future had never seemed so exciting.
I came up with the idea for a business called Wheelie Active that would help train people who were physically impaired.
Now all I needed was the official qualification.
At the college, I encountered another obstacle – literally.
There was no lift to get to my classroom, so each day a group of classmates or teachers would hoist me up and down the stairs.
I lost count of the number of times I thanked everyone!
At the end of my four-month course, I was offered a job at the same spinal unit where I'd received the earth-shattering news I was paralysed.
"We'd like you to train people in a wheelchair and help them rebuild their strength and conditioning," the doctor said.
It's a miracle I survived the fall. (Photo credit: Woman's Day NZ)
To say I was thrilled was an understatement.
I got all my clients working with dumbbells and lifting weights and before long, they were smiling and full of hope.
"You've made me realise my life doesn't end here," one said.
I started branching out and training wheelchair basketball players, too.
"Geez," one of the men sighed. "I never swear, but I do a lot of swearing when I train with you!"
I admit that I'm tough on my clients, but I've learned that's what gets results.
It's a miracle I survived my fall at all.
Part of me reckons that being so fit helped me to live through it.
I've got no plans to slow down any time soon.
Since being in a wheelchair, I'm yet to go swimming. But, when I do, I won't just be going for a paddle in the pool – I want to be chucked off a boat and into the ocean!
Life's an adventure and I want to live it to the fullest.
I hope that by sharing my story, I will inspire others to never give up. You can always achieve your goals if you put your mind to it.

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