Swimming After Near Fatal Injury | Alexa Leary

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now thats magic

terrence hines 04 März, 2023

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For 111 days, Alexa Leary was in the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) fighting for her life. The up-and-coming young Australian triathlete was on a training ride and crashed her bike going 65 km/h on a downhill. Her long list of injuries included blood clots, multiple broken bones, major knee damage, and severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Spending two weeks in an induced coma in the ICU and another two months in the neurosurgery ward, her parents were told she would be in hospital for a year and that she wasn’t expected to walk or talk again. But, one part of Leary that wasn’t affected, was her fighting and ambitious spirit. After making miraculous progress, not only did she walk out of the hospital unassisted after just over three months, but, nine months after her accident she won a bronze medal at the Australian Para Swimming Championships in the 50 meter backstroke. As the 20-year-old says, “I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”

Back to the Water

At first, swimming was only part of her recovery. Severe damage on the left side of her brain meant the right side of Leary’s body was physically impaired. “That’s why I had to learn how to walk for months in RBWH due to my right side not being the best,” she explains. After she was released from the hospital, her parents got her into the water to help get her arms and legs moving. “Also, I have always loved swimming,” she smiles.

Eventually, however, rehabilitation turned into training. Now, Leary swims up to 11 km a day and aims to get her fitness level back to where it was before the accident. “I just get in and swim like a machine, like a little fish,” she says. As a triathlete, Leary was junior national champion in 2019 and 2020 and also represented Australia at the 2019 world championship in Switzerland, winning a silver medal in the U19 category. That competitive spirit was very much thriving at the Australian Para Swimming Championships this past year where, after only five months of swimming, Leary had a medal winning performance and earned herself a spot on the Swimming Australia Para National Development Squad.

Her goals now are very clear: “To make the Paralympics and, of course, I want to win a gold or just a medal.”

“My speedy recovery and being here has been a miracle,” Leary says. But, while the seemingly worst is behind her, she still battles with her TBI every day.

Specifically, Leary struggles a lot with her memory. During the warm-up at national championships last year, she even forgot to pull her googles down before she dived in—“So we were off to a good start,” her father joked on an Instagram post. “With her brain injury, she does forget so I had to drill her regarding how many laps, dolphin kicks, etcetera,” he further explained. Thankfully, during the final race, Leary didn’t forget anything and swam a personal best along with getting onto the podium.

Outside the pool, Leary still undergoes physical treatment, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, check-ups with the neurosurgeon, and she works with an occupational therapist every week to help her manage daily life. She relies a lot on her phone, using it to set reminders about tasks; but, something she can’t set a reminder about, is her emotions. “My emotions are very up and down,” she explains. “My personality has changed a lot due to my brain. It takes years to recover and I do have my Traumatic Brain Injury for life but that’s okay.” Leary details how her TBI has changed a lot of her relationships because others don’t understand the nature of her injury. “I am still learning and trying to understand who has been loyal and stood by my side through this whole accident,” she says.

On the other hand, Leary created a whole new community when she started the #MoveForLex campaign on Instagram. “Get out, get moving—do it for those who can’t” is the call to action that inspired a massive following. Whether she is swimming or doing her other seemingly favorite action, dancing, Leary still stands to set a positive and encouraging example. All funds go toward supporting “families and loved ones in the ICU” as well as the RBWH neurosurgery ward for equipment and to-date they have raised $227,056.

Throughout her incredible recovery Leary says, “Appreciating my life, as it was almost taken,” is the most important lesson she has learned. For Leary, amid medical check-ups and living forever with TBI, appreciating life means “smashing it out” in the pool, traveling, enjoying 20-something life with her friends, inspiring others to move for everyone who can’t, and always, always, always dreaming big. Rather than treating swimming as a chore Leary enjoys every moment of it. This is something many other elite ahtletes in the sport also have in common. Fenella Langridge also has a very similar mindset and attudide towards her training. Click here to learn how she makes her hard training more enjoyable.

Leary swam in THEMAGIC5 when she was a triathlete before her accident.
Now, you’ll see her in the limited-edition Pink Magic Mirror Silver.

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now thats magic

terrence hines

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