Cruising past the lush rice fields in Vietnam on my motorbike, the hot sun was beating down on me.
I was two weeks into my girls’ trip with my best friend, Jo, and I couldn’t wait to cool off in the waterfalls during lunch.
After meeting through our local volleyball team 21 years earlier, Jo and I had become fast friends.
Studying at the same university, we often talked about taking a trip to South-East Asia.
But after we graduated and started working, we kept putting off our holiday.
Despite our busy lives, we always made time for each other, and in 2013 when I married Francis, Jo was right by my side as bridesmaid.
Then, in March 2017, when I was 37, we decided to book our big trip.
After spending the first five days exploring temples in Cambodia, we booked a motorbike tour through Vietnam. I’d ridden a moped before, so I was confident.
Once the whole group had strapped on their helmets, we set off.
But after morning tea, two people from another tour group pulled in front of me.
They were going much slower, so my guide signalled for me to overtake them.
As I picked up speed, however, I didn’t realise we were approaching a corner. With no time to brake or steer away from the metal barrier, I went straight into it.
Thrown from my bike, I cartwheeled right over the edge.
Landing on the mountainside with a crunch, I began sliding downwards out of control.
Tossed around like a ragdoll, the constant thud, thud, thud of my helmet hitting the gravel was all I could think about.
I hope I don’t break my neck, I panicked.
Finally, I came to a stop when I hit a tree.
Looking down, I realised my femur was protruding through the skin above my left knee.
My right shoulder had been dislocated too.
Peering up to the top of the mountain, I estimated I’d fallen around 30 metres.
Thankfully, I could see the rest of my tour group making their way down to help me.
As I waited, I saw my left leg was still semi-attached, but it had been bent underneath me and was barely hanging on.
‘An ambulance is on its way,’ Jo told me.
Around 50 minutes later, I was driven to a nearby hospital where I learned I’d also broken my tibia and fibula, as well as sustained internal bleeding in my abdomen.
Unfortunately, since I wasn’t licensed to ride a motorbike in Australia, my travel insurance wouldn’t cover the hospital bill, which was more than $500,000.
‘Just please don’t let them take my leg,’ I begged Jo as I was wheeled into surgery.
Incredibly, my surgeon saved my limb by attaching a large metal contraption on the outside of my leg to hold my bones together.
The following day, I underwent another operation to put my shoulder back in place.
Just over two weeks later, I flew home and underwent seven more surgeries, where a bone graft from my hip was taken to help rebuild my tibia. A skin graft was also taken from my thigh to replace the skin around my knee.
Even though I felt like I was making progress, my doctor warned me that my recovery wasn’t going to be easy.
‘You’ll never run or play volleyball again,’ he told me.
Sport had always been such a huge part of my life, so I was determined to prove him wrong.
Three months later, I was discharged in a wheelchair.
I fell into a deep depression and struggled to get out of bed.
Although I was grateful to be alive, I felt like the world as I knew it had fallen apart.
Incredibly, through regular physio and after 12 ops, I was able to take my first steps in August 2017 – six months after the accident.
I felt like a fire had been lit inside me.
‘I want to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa,’ I told my specialist.
In August 2018, I did just that, before hiking through Machu Picchu a year later.
Then in March 2019, Jo and I returned to Vietnam to finish our tour, this time travelling by car.
Despite being told that I’d never play volleyball again, I returned to the court in November last year.
Spiking the ball over the net, it felt so liberating to be back doing what I loved.
Now, three years on from my accident, I’m so thankful to have survived such an ordeal and I’m writing a book about my experience.
I encourage everyone to avoid riding motorbikes overseas unless they are fully qualified – it’s just not worth the risk.
Despite it being a long and difficult journey back to good health, I’ve learned that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
* If you’re struggling with mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Aus) or 0800 543 354 (NZ).
For more information on Marie's journey since her accident, visit www.marieskelton.com