When she was injured in a horrific car accident, being sporty didn’t just save Becca Slater’s life physically – it saved her mentally too.
The strength she’d gained through activities she’d enjoyed for years protected her body in the crash many wouldn’t have survived.
And the determination which helped her strive to be her best, gave her the will not just to live after losing her right arm, but get better and stronger too.
“The doctors told my parents that my body’s level of physical fitness was what had let me come away with such minor injuries,” says Becca, 24, from Sefton Park. “Most people don’t come out of my type of car crash alive, and the ones that do normally have spinal or brain injuries.
“I was fortunate that my body managed to protect itself and that the drive to get back to training was like a fire in my belly – and that never went out.”
Becca’s drive not only saw her fight her way back to fitness but gain a place in the GB Women’s Sitting Volleyball team – an achievement of which she is rightly proud.
But without her resolve things could have been very different after the accident shattered not just her bones but the ambitions she had held.
It happened on Saturday, January 29, 2017. Former Calderstones School pupil Becca was on her way to Preston to compete with her band, Allerton Brass Band.
“I was on the M6 northbund near Charnock Richard when I hit black ice and skidded,” recalls. “I rolled my car and went from being in the middle lane to the central reservation and ended up in the inside lane with my car facing the hard shoulder.”
Initially Becky was taken to the Royal Preston Hospital before being transferred to Broadgreen.
“I had emergency surgery on my arm on the day of the accident to try to restart blood supply to my lower arm after suffering a compound fracture, dislocating my elbow and severing a major blood vessel.
“They tried to save it but, 12 hours later, they had to stop surgery. The next day I had an above-elbow amputation to remove the non-viable tissue.”
It wasn’t her only injury. Becca suffered a compound fracture and dislocated her right ankle having broken both her tibia and fibia; she had fractured bones in her right foot and in her spine. And she had internal injuries.
“I had life-changing injuries – but I was alive.
“The weeks after my accident were a blur. At first I had no idea how severe my injuries were but I knew it was bad because of the amount of pain I was in or, in the case of my arm, the lack of pain and any sensation!
“In all honesty, when the fire crew rescuing me said I’d been in a major car accident I thought they were pulling my leg. There was only one point, early on, when I remember saying I was scared… and then I pulled myself together and handed it over. That’s what we say in my family: ‘when something is beyond your control, just hand it over’ and that is what I did.”
Although Becca was only in hospital for four weeks, there were many visits afterwards with further procedures to both her ankle and her arm, as well as physio.
“But I’d decided pretty early on that I was going to get as fit as possible as soon as possible.”
Before the accident life had seemed almost perfect.
“I had a good job that was putting me through a vocational course, and a great social life, I was loving my training and prepping for sporting events that were coming up,” says Becca, “I was even making plans to travel the world with my best friend, one trip at a time!
“I was four weeks from my Army selection to begin the journey of becoming a CMT (Combat Medic Technician). I’d always dreamed of joining the Forces.”
It all changed in an instant, but Becca says: “I haven’t sat round feeling sorry for myself because in my mind, from the very beginning, there was only one option and that was to get on with it. No matter what was thrown at me, I HAD to survive.
“I found support in moving forward through a guy from Texas, Craig Till, an amputee who I was put in touch with by my old powerlifting coach who I’m now fortunate to call a friend. Although every day I could fight through the pain and stay strong for my family, at night it was so bad and my mind went to some dark places, and he would call or text and show me that I was strong enough not only to survive but to thrive. He said if he can help one person then everything he’s been through was worth it – something I now live by aswell.
“He, and reading books by Andy Reid and Mark Ormrod who’d both lost limbs while serving in the Forces, kept me going. I also vowed not to let it define me.”
Becca continues to participate in CrossFit, sitting volleyball, rowing, Olympic weightlifting, strongman, pole fitness and yoga. And when there’s time, horse riding, judo, wakeboarding and playing trumpet in Bader’s Big Band (‘the first big band made up of solely disabled players!’).
“Being in the GB Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team is something else entirely! The environment is so different to anything I’ve ever done and the women on the squad are always willing to help you improve. I am fortunate to have found the sport and to have landed into such a great team.
“And I wouldn’t have competed for my country in a sport before my accident.”
Becca, based at the Women’s Hospital, has now qualified as a soon-to-be Registered Pharmacy Technician – “something that when I was in hospital I never thought would happen but thanks to having an amazing manager and friend in my corner, it has!”
And she has new ambitions to replace those she lost in the accident.
“I have found myself doing lots of things I would never have done if it hadn’t been for my accident so I have a host of new dreams:
“Eventually I’d like to work in para/adaptive sport whether it be coaching, organising events or as an athlete.”
Not surprisingly Becca has good days and bad days: “Most of the time things are second nature now but it’s extremely hard – I was right handed so it was extra hard to adapt – especially when I’m tired. But it’s harder mentally.
“I have been dealing with the repercussions of what has happened and working my way through the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to keep moving forward with life.”
But she says: “I often think that if I could wish away the injuries and the accident, stay on the same path, experience the adventures and meet the people I have, then that would be amazing. But it isn’t possible.
“So I wouldn’t un-wish what has happened because it has led some incredible people into my life and helped me grow to a bigger purpose.”
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