REAL LIFE

‘I Couldn’t Feel Anything From The Chest Down’

A horrific Motocross accident marked a new beginning for Christina
Woman pictured in hospital straight after freak accident and after photo after recovery living in a wheelchairSupplied
  • Christina Vithoulkas, 27, from Barmera, SA, was visiting family when the unthinkable happened. 
  • A semi-professional motocross rider, she was riding on a remote dirt track when she misjudged a jump.
  • After breaking three vertebrae and suffering a completely severed my spinal cord in the motocross accident, Christina was paralysed from the waist down.
  • But despite the shocking accident, Christina says she is the happiest she has ever been!

Here Christina tells her story in her own words.

Sitting on the back of the motorbike, holding on tight, my adrenaline ran wild as my then boyfriend revved the engine.

Aged 19, I’d never been on a motorbike before, but had agreed to hop on to go for a spin.

Falling in love with the thrill, I bought my own bike three weeks later.

Juggling a teaching degree at uni with my day job in hospitality, I went riding every chance I got.

A year later, I signed myself up for competitive motocross racing.

I’d hit the track every Sunday, and moved to rural Victoria to pursue my freestyle motocross dream.

Within a year I’d become a semi-professional rider!

In September 2018, when I was 23, I went to visit my mum, Maria, 54, her hubby Carlos, 53, my dad Jim, 56, and my twin sister Irene, back home in Barmera, SA.

Nearby there was a remote dirt bike track with an epic ramp I wanted to jump off on my bike.

Waking up in the morning, I couldn’t get down to the track quick enough, with Irene and some friends in tow.

Semi-professional motocross rider making a jump
I loved riding motocross

A spinal cord injury (SCI) can cause changes to the spinal cord’s function which are temporary or permanent. It can affect the body’s ability to move, function and experience sensations. Spinal cord injuries can be the result of an accident or trauma, or a medical condition such as a tumour, infection or restricted blood flow. In a complete spinal cord injury, all movement and sensation below the affected part of the spinal cord are lost – for example when someone is paralysed from the waist down. With an incomplete spinal cord injury, some movement or sensation is preserved.

What is a spinal cord injury?

Sitting astride my bike, I looked over the circuit, buzzing with excitement.

The plan was to whizz up the metal ramp, then cross a nearly 17-metre gap, while soaring 10 metres up in the air.

The ramp was sharper and steeper than I was used to, but I was ready for a challenge.

Putting the bike into gear, as I started my run up towards the ramp, I noticed the ground was a bit slippery.

Hitting the ramp, I accelerated up it, ready to soar into the sky.

Then, my world went black.

Coming to, I felt a sharp stabbing pain through my back.

My bike lay undamaged on its side next to me, the wheel still spinning.

I’ve been paralysed, I knew instantly.

I couldn’t feel anything from my chest down.

Woman recovering in hospital after freak accident while riding motocross
Me in hospital after the accident

Despite being in agony, I wasn’t scared.

But I knew my life had been completely changed forever by the motocross accident.

‘Please don’t die. Someone call an ambulance!’ Irene cried out, clutching my hand.

‘I heard your back crack,’ she sobbed.

‘I can deal with the wheelchair, but can I still have kids?’

I’d misjudged the jump, and the back wheel of my bike had hit the top of the ramp, as I hadn’t been going fast enough to lift high into the air.

My legs had been thrown up off the bike, and I came off, falling 10 metres and landing on my head with such force that it appeared my spine had snapped causing a spinal cord injury, and my bottom had hit my skull.

The ambos arrived 45 minutes later to the very remote track, and I was airlifted to Royal Adelaide Hospital.

I was wheeled in for emergency surgery and, waking up six hour later, doctors confirmed what I already knew in my gut.

‘Surgery was successful, but you’re paralysed from here down,’ a doctor said gently, holding his hands above his waist.

‘I can deal with the wheelchair, but can I still have kids?’ I asked.

Mum, stepdad and daughter posing for family photo
Mum, Carlos and me

‘When the day comes you have plenty of options,’ he reassured me.

Scans showed I had broken three vertebrae and completely severed my spinal cord.

I had fractured ribs, torn ligaments in my neck and shoulder, lacerated my spleen, fractured my skull and had fluid in my lungs.

Am I going to be okay? I could still die, I fretted, as I lay in ICU.

‘I am so lucky to be alive.’

Looking around the room at my support team – Mum, Dad, Irene and Carlos, I had an epiphany.

‘I am so lucky to be alive,’ I announced.

I was still here – and that was all that mattered.

After two and a half weeks recovering in hospital, I was transferred to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre to begin rehab.

Treating it like boot camp, I looked at everything as a challenge and set myself a goal to be out in two months despite being paralysed from the waist down.

‘You’ve got this, babe,’ Mum and Irene cheered me on, as I transferred myself from the bed into my wheelchair.

Woman paralysed from waist down using wheelchair posing for picture on the beach at sunset
I use my experience to inspire others

‘You are months ahead of where we thought you’d be,’ nurses exclaimed.

After seven and a half weeks in rehab, I was given the green light to go home.

I wanted to use my experience to inspire other people.

I want to be the person that a recently disabled kid will look to and think ‘look what Christina can do’, I decided.

So I started posting unfiltered content on my Instagram about what it’s like living with a disability – and the tips and tricks that I use to make it easier.

You inspire me every day to be stronger and happier, never change! one follower messaged.

Four years on from the motocross accident, and I’m still an adrenaline junkie.

I’ve adapted a ute, so I can operate the brake and accelerator with my hands, which I’ve driven 120,000 kilometres across five states in two years.

But that doesn’t quite give me the burst of adrenaline I’m used to.

Finding a new passion, I’m building a special sports car with hand controls designed to spin its wheels, burn rubber, fishtail and ‘drift’ sideways around corners on a bitumen track.

I’m definitely living life to the fullest!

I may have lost the use of my legs that day, but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

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