On the 31st August 1998 an act of stupidity by someone she loved and trusted changed Georgina Hurst’s life forever. She was 25 years old and working as a paramedic, a job she loved. She was young, fit, active and healthy with her whole life ahead of her. Little did she imagine that her boyfriend of five years could be so reckless.
“A group of us were at a pub and decided to go and get something to eat. To get there we had to go on a very narrow, windy road. My boyfriend at the time had a fast car and decided it would be a good laugh to race his friends in the other car. I did ask him to slow down but he ignored me and we overtook someone on the brow of a hill. He hadn’t seen the car in front had stopped to turn right so he swerved and lost control and we hit someone head on coming towards us.”
The total impact of the crash was 120mph.
The collision was so fierce that the passenger seat where Georgina sat was pushed behind the driver’s seat. It took the fire service an hour to cut her out and she almost died right there on the road. “I died on scene and had to be resuscitated. Luckily the person we overtook on the hill was a nurse, so she knew how important it was to keep my neck still. I owe what mobility I do have to her.”
From the scene of the crash Georgina was taken to a hospital in Keighley but her injuries were so severe she was immediately transferred to St. James` in Leeds where it took four hours to stabilise her before her first operation. Her parents were told she probably wouldn’t make the night.
Fifteen years on and Georgina is alive and well, but still lives every moment of her life trapped within the physical limits imposed on her on that afternoon. The accident left her wheelchair bound, with doctors advising she would never walk again. Yet within minutes of arriving at her home in Eldwick it becomes clear that she is not one to dwell on her misfortune. She seems reluctant to discuss her past and talks instead, with great enthusiasm, of her next big project – a bike ride from London to Bruges. I have to strain my ears a little to understand her and I feel guilty. She apologises, “I haven’t always spoken like this. As part of my injury I suffered some brain stem damage which has caused the palate in my mouth to lose coordination with everything else.” I ask her what it feels like to be judged on her injuries and appearance. “In the beginning it did upset me the way I was spoken to and treated, but I do think that was people’s ignorance. Now if people have a problem it’s theirs not mine. That may sound harsh and I apologise if it does but that’s the way it is.”
We revert quickly back to the matter at hand and begin to discuss her impending cycling challenge. “I’m always setting myself challenges; I was told I’d never walk again but eight years ago I walked a mile for charity. I had to do it on crutches but I still proved them wrong.” Following on from her walk – for which she raised £5,000- Georgina pushed herself further still by taking part in a charity wall climb. “It is through determination and sheer pig headedness I can walk short distances on crutches, and I want to show people that life doesn’t have to stop just because you become disabled. This was one of the reasons I started to do the charity stuff.” Since then it seems she has caught the fundraising bug, and her passion for the cause is plain to see.
Georgina spent eight weeks on intensive care in Leeds, and had to be resuscitated a further four times. She was in a coma for a week and then kept unconscious for the next seven. In total she had about 20 hours of major surgery. Despite this horrific ordeal she maintains there are many far worse off than her, “A car crash is nothing compared to what our brave service people have to encounter so I wanted to do something for those people who don’t think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
It was, therefore, an automatic choice when it came to picking a charity for her fund raising efforts. “Me and my friends went to Twickenham, to the Help for Heroes concert, and I looked at their brochure to see what I could do next. There were things like trekking on horses across Malaysia, which I obviously couldn’t do. But I was confident could do the bike ride, so I contacted them and signed up to do the Big Battlefield Bike Ride from Portsmouth to Dunkirk, which I did in May last year.”
Georgina joined 270 other cyclists in the 2012 Big Battlefield Bike Ride, riding over 350 miles through the Somme Battlefields of World War 1 and 2 on their journey to Dunkirk. She was one of seven riders to complete the challenging course on hand bikes – the other six to do so were wounded soldiers. It was a remarkable achievement by a remarkable woman. She raised £2,775 and in doing so proved that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Few who had visited her in hospital during those dark days could have ever imagined it possible. Georgina’s mother, Heather, said “I was immensely proud. If you think right back to the beginning – when we were told she was going to be a vegetable, that she would never walk, or talk – to see her cycling over the finish line, words can’t describe it.”
A head scan in intensive care revealed a broken neck and Georgina was put in a strait jacket with a metal halo screwed to her head to stop any further damage. She swelled up to three times her size leaving her unrecognisable and needed a Tracheotomy (a tube in her throat) to help her breathe. “ I couldn’t talk or move so the only way I could talk to people was if they went through the alphabet and I stuck my tongue out at the letter I wanted, which was very frustrating. In the following months I had to learn to eat, drink, talk and write again. I had to be fed and drink from a baby cup with two handles which was very humiliating.”
It is impossible to imagine what it must have felt like fourteen years later to cheer herself over the finish line in France. I ask her what it felt like to complete the bike ride given all that she had been through, “There was a huge sense of achievement knowing what I’d done was hopefully go towards helping a lot of people.” Georgina is keen to inspire others to win their own battles too. “My message to people would be that I am proof there is light at the end of the tunnel, never give up, where there’s a will, there is definitely a way.”
Georgina was joined on the ride by her friend and trainer Gemma Nickle, who acted as her support rider and helped her train and prepare for the ride. Gemma said, “I have known Georgina for about 10 years through the gym, and she has been an inspiration ever since. She is one of those people with a can-do attitude. She won’t allow people to feel sorry for her; she just likes to get on and prove to everybody that she can do it.”
Gemma won’t be able to take part in Georgina’s latest challenge, although she is helping her train for the event and will be cheering her on come August.
Georgina has a specially designed tricycle – she can’t ride a two wheeled bike – which was built for her by Cambridshire-based firm, DTE K. Along with Gemma she will train most days, which can often be difficult in the hills and valleys around Bingley. “We try to get out on the roads as much as possible but round here you can’t go anywhere that hasn’t got a hill.” At the time of my visit she tells me she is up to around 30 miles a day – although that is on a static bike, not a road bike. “The hard work is yet to come” she says. Due to the weather Georgina’s bike has spent most of the winter on a turbo trainer in her garage. It’s not ideal preparation but there is still some way to go. “Once we’re doing the challenge we will be doing up to 60 miles some days.” She tells me.
This year Georgina will be riding for Stubs, a small military support charity that works with the UK’s most seriously injured servicemen and women during their rehabilitation. She will take part in the Bruges 100 Ladies Cycle Challenge, which is a ladies-only ride that moves at an average of eight miles an hour, which is a pace that suits her well.
The charity has promised to provide a support rider for Georgina and she will be supported by STUBS own group of experienced professionals, including a bike mechanic to fix any punctures or make repairs, and an aromatherapist. She expects it to be hard, but she is looking forward to the experience. Her mum, Heather, is certain she will upset the odds yet again. “She is so determined; I think she is an inspiration. If she sets her mind to something she will do it, especially something like this for injured servicemen.”
Nothing can replace what she has lost, but for sheer determination and spirit, she is more able than most of us.
“I’ve learnt to walk with crutches, which is something they said I would never do. I’ve since done a walk for charity, it was only a mile but for someone who had to learn to walk again it was very hard work but I did it. I’ve also done a charity wall climb which again was hard work but I did it. I’m cycled 350 miles from Portsmouth to Dunkirk which was ridiculously hard work but I got it done.” Who would bet against her beating the odds yet again?