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In disheartening news out of the Gold Coast, former lifesaving athlete Jessica Collins was reportedly paddling a stand-up board at Snapper Rocks when she was pitched forward awkwardly onto a sandbank and left paralyzed below the shoulders.

Collins, a medalist in both state and national lifesaving comps, was thrown face down and apparently knew something was wrong. She had to calmly hold her breath and wait for someone to help her as she was unable to move. “She knew she had to hold her breath as long as she could because once she exhaled, she was dead,” her father Peter Collins told Australian media. “She said once she hit the bottom that ‘thank God I stayed conscious’. All she was praying for was that someone saw her floating there.”

Her father says one of her friends had caught the wave behind her and noticed her floating in the water, face down and was able to turn her over and drag her in past the break.

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Collins, 24, is obviously trained in life-saving techniques and, according to her father, was instructing her rescuers on what to do. Once she reached medical help it was determined she’d fractured her C5 vertebra and damaged her spinal cord. According to her father, the doctors don’t think she’ll be able to walk again but that they also don’t know the extent of the injury due to the swelling. She did have bone fusion surgery Friday. It was apparently a positive sign that Collins, who was just weeks away from earning her teaching degree, was able to breathe on her own at the time of the accident.

Collins’ brother, Daniel, won the New South Wales Ironman championship and will represent Australia at the Sanyo Bussan Cup in Japan this month. According to family, he doesn’t want to leave his sister. “It’s difficult for him and he doesn’t want to go, but I think Jess is keen for him to go because she wants him to continue to live his life,” her father said. “Typical Jess, she doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

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