Racing on Empty
Iona lives to compete. She represented Great Britain in speed skiing and rode on the Irish Equestrian Team. Driven by a desire to find herself, a rebellious and slightly wild Iona harnessed her sporting abilities to find purpose, hope and...
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Iona lives to compete. She represented Great Britain in speed skiing and rode on the Irish Equestrian Team. Driven by a desire to find herself, a rebellious and slightly wild Iona harnessed her sporting abilities to find purpose, hope and meaning. But even after many successes and failures Iona realized that having everything she dreamed of still left her feeling broken and empty.
Whilst competing in France she fell at one hundred and sixty kilometers an hour and shattered her leg in eight places. Statistically, she should have died at this speed, but miraculously survived. After an eight-hour operation Iona now had one plate and 28 screws holding her right leg together. The life that she knew came to a grinding halt. Doctors told her that she would never be able to do sports again and would always walk with a limp.
Undaunted Iona moved to the Middle East to work in public relations with Rothmans Williams Renault Formula One Team and to pursue her love for horses -first in showjumping and then in endurance racing representing Ireland in the World Championships and World Equestrian Games. After several successful years on the Irish Team, Iona's life took an unexpected turn. Was this the answer to finding peace, hope and purpose?
Iona lives to compete She represented Great Britain in speed skiing and rode on the Irish Equestrian Team. Driven by a desire to find herself, a rebellious and slightly wild Iona harnessed her sporting abilities to find purpose, hope and meaning. But even after many successes and failures Iona realized that having everything she dreamed of still left her feeling broken and empty. Whilst competing in France she fell at one hundred and sixty kilometers an hour and shattered her leg in eight places. Statistically, she should have died at this speed, but miraculously survived. After an eight-hour operation Iona now had one plate and 28 screws holding her right leg together. The life that she knew came to a grinding halt. Doctors told her that she would never be able to do sports again and would always walk with a limp. Undaunted Iona moved to the Middle East to work in public relations with Rothmans Williams Renault Formula One Team and to pursue her love for horses -first in showjumping and then in endurance racing representing Ireland in the World Championships and World Equestrian Games. After several successful years on the Irish Team, Iona's life took an unexpected turn. Was this the answer to finding peace, hope and purpose?
Iona is a lay minister for the Anglican Church in Australia and was the Coordinator of the Global Sustainability Network (GSN). Iona has previously worked in public relations, most notably with Rothmans Williams Renault Formula One team. She then moved into photojournalism, specializing in equestrian sports. In her sporting career Iona represented Great Britain in Speed Skiing and holds the titles of 1986 Ladies British Overseas Champion and New Zealand Ladies Champion.
9 Crash and Burn “Welcome back old friend.” I turned to see Michael the head of the ski school beaming from ear to ear. It was weird to be back in Les Arc as a competitor and not as an instructor. The KL track took centre stage in the resort. You couldn’t help but to look up in awe! This was the fastest track in the world. The one that every speed skier prayed would bring them glory. “Yep. Feels like coming home. I missed this place,” I said as I starred upwards to the summit. “Good luck in the race. It seems to have attracted everybody. Not enough speed courses in the world. Everyone wants to come here.” Michael waved goodbye. “I’ll be there to support you Iona.” He shouted as he strolled down the high street. For only a minor race, Michael was right. There were over 200 skiers who had signed up to compete. I starred across at the KL slope and closed my eyes. I felt good and focused. What would race day bring? I wondered. Time was short, I only had three days to prepare and I had to find a reliable ski technician to help prepare my skis and assist with my equipment on race day. Knocking at his door. “David can I take you up on your offer.” The door swung open and there he was wrapped up like a giant Eskimo. “Not feeling good,” He said. “I can see that. You look awful. I was going to ask if you’d be my technician for the race. But it doesn’t look like you’ll be up to it.” “Iona I wouldn’t miss it for the world. This flu will be gone by then. Drop your skis in and Ill prepare them and I will be at your side on race day.” “Brilliant thank you. I won’t hug you. Maybe after the race.” I awoke feeling a little under the weather. Blimey I hope I’ve not picked up that flu bug? Not today of all days. It was a couple of hours later when I was trying to order breakfast, I realised that I had totally lost my voice. Strange never happened before, I thought. But knowing I didn’t need a voice to race I soldiered on. With my fifteen kilo skies balanced on my shoulder and my red Smirnoff branded helmet and poles I walked slowly up the slope to the starting point. At the same time, I was on the lookout for David. Where was he? I tried not to let negative thoughts creep in, but I knew I needed a reliable technician to help adjust the correct settings on my bindings before I did my first timed run. The starting point was like looking at a sea of multicoloured suits. I fitted in well with my bright pink catsuit. Everyone who was anyone within the speed skiing world was here. World Champion Franz Weber, the up and coming French superstar, Doctor Michael Prufer, plus many other familiar faces. By now I had totally forgotten about David. It was just good to be in the midst of like-minded people. Felt like community, but with adrenalin. Unable to talk I tried my hand at sign language which not surprisingly no one understood. I watched as racer upon racer took their turn. I had time on my hands as I was way down the start list. There was still no sign of David. I took the decision not to worry about my binding settings. They had been checked the day before so should be good to go. I could feel the adrenalin pumping through my body even more so when a couple of skiers wiped out. Thankfully they both walked away without any broken bones. I was feeling a little nervous, but I knew this would always only heightened my awareness levels and help me focus. The atmosphere was electric, the crowds were screaming, and I absorbed it all. I felt like I was in the ‘zone’ and ready to go. Balancing myself with my poles I shuffled my two metre skis around. I took a deep breath and pushed off from the slope. As I picked up speed I could feel the vibration of my skis on the snow and the sound of the wind in my ears. Love this feeling, I thought. With eyes focused on the red finish line in the distance I remember crouching lower in my ‘egg’ position for better aerodynamics when suddenly my right ski came off. Shocked and stunned and without thinking I put my right heel down to slow myself. I knew as I did this it was the wrong move: especially at 100kph. The next second, I exploded into a human catapult with arms and legs swirling out of control. As I tumbled down, streams of thoughts rushed in. Oh shit, I’m going to die! Who will look after Toby? God if you’re real, help! For one and a half kilometres I plunged out of control, crossing the speed track at over 160 kph. Then there was silence. I came to a grinding halt., I can breathe, I’m alive! I felt numb all over. I slowly half sat up and saw fragments of exposed bone protruding from my right leg. Then everything went black. The rest of the day became a blur. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I vaguely remember at one point watching two doctors talking and pointing at several x-ray images. I strained to see. Wow that looks bad! It looked like someone had randomly thrown several pieces of bone into a pile. Where was my leg? Twenty-four hours later I opened my eyes. My body felt different. Yes, I was bruised, and I could feel the friction burn marks on my back caused by my rubber suit, but my right leg felt like it was no longer part of me. The door creaked slightly and in walked two white coated men. “We put you back together,” said the taller of the two, with a gigantic smile. “It took us eight hours. But we did it.” I couldn’t speak. I just starred at them! Frozen. “You didn’t break your leg. You shattered it! Into nine pieces. Both the knee and the lower tibia separated. I suppose the lesson is not to fall at 160kph!” They turned and walked towards the door. “We’ll come back tomorrow and run through your recovery program.” I sort of smiled and said thank you. If you do break your leg, then the best place to be is in Albertville, renowned for its pioneering orthopaedic surgery. I was in the right place, but in a bad situation. Now I was the proud owner of a long metal titanium plate and 23 screws in my right leg. The bionic women! I kept replaying the fall in my head. Over and over. Trying to make sense of what had happened. My position felt good, I had been focused then bang! I’m on one ski! I lay there peering out of the window. What now? I thought. Would I be able to ski again? Just then I heard a Knock, knock at the door. “Surprise!” It was a group of ski instructors who I used to work with. Laden with flowers, chocolates and teddy bears. “Talk about going out in style Iona. You don’t do things in halves, do you?” said George. We laughed and chatted for an hour and then somewhere in between the talk I just dozed off. When I awoke the room was quiet. But I felt someone in the room. I turned to see speed skier Michael Prufer sitting on the visitors chair just staring at me. Michael was a real charmer. Not only was he kind and compassionate but he was also a true gentleman. We had recently been out on a couple of dates. And I knew that I could easily fall head over heels for this guy. But I kept stalling. It just wasn’t the right time! “That was one serious blow out Iona. Your blessed to be in the land of the living.” “Yep I know. And now you’re looking at the bionic women.” We both laughed. It was good to talk through what happened. We discussed theories on how and why but never came up with a final verdict. “You’re going to be off the circuit for a while. I’ll miss you, but I’ll call you when you get home.” Michael lent over and kissed me on the cheek and walked to the door. “I know it’s going to be difficult but stay out of mischief.” There was a full-on stream of visitors. What surprised me enormously was the amount of people who were genuinely concerned about my health and well-being. I was truly overcome by their love. Prior to my accident I knew I was somewhat self-absorbed. Life was all about me: which meant I didn’t have many close friends. Day two and I waited for the surgeons to return. I waited and waited! Was I dreaming, or could I really hear my mother’s voice in the corridor? “Where’s my daughter?” I braced myself. With her winter cape flowing and sheepskin hat on she flings open the doors and launched herself towards the bed. “Careful mummy, careful my leg,” I cried. As she went to give me a giant bear hug. “You cannot keep doing this to me Iona. You’re going to give me a heart attack.”