For newly disabled teenagers it can be hard to juggle their goals and aspirations with their injury. For Nathalie though, her determination and strength took over and helped her through this difficult time. It was less than a year before she would embark on a journey through the world of disabled sports, that would lead to her becoming the world’s first and only female tetraplegic racing driver.
Even before the injury, Nathalie had a strong willed, rebellious nature that would sometimes even get her into trouble. But in her recovery, she had an epiphany moment, and realised she could harness this spark and turn it into strength.
“I can remember exactly the moment that I found a different kind of focus…or stopped being a victim of the injury.”
The nurses in the spinal unit brought in a female patient with a similar level of injury to Nathalie’s, who had been living with her spinal injury for a while. They demonstrated to Nathalie how this patient could do her hair and makeup with reduced hand and grip function, and how she drove an adaptive van from her electric wheelchair.
“They said that that was something that perhaps I should consider. And I just remember feeling really annoyed. I felt like they didn’t know me. They didn’t know what I was capable of achieving – and why should my standards be set by someone else’s?”
Just a few weeks later, Nathalie’s physiotherapist arranged another visit, this time from Allan Smith, a Paralympian involved in the wheelchair rugby community. He was on his way to a training session, and Nathalie ended up going with him. She found herself inspired by the team and how fully they lived their lives after their own injuries.
“No one was limited by what happened to them. I think the main thing for me was they were like, proof of life after a spinal cord injury.”
Nathalie promised herself that her injury wouldn’t stop her from doing anything she was planning on doing before the accident. So, after 11 months in a rehabilitation unit she finished her A-levels, and then moved out of home to Nottingham University. There were some challenges adapting to a more independent life without her support network, but she also got to join her first wheelchair rugby team. Nathalie began to train and compete at different universities and completely threw herself into the community.