Brooke Hanson has spent a lot of time in the water. That’s because the Australian is an Olympic gold medallist and former world-record holder in various disciplines of swimming. But a few days ago, Hanson suffered multiple spinal fractures in a surfing accident at Coffs Harbour, leaving her terrified that she might never walk again.
After her accident, Hanson spoke with 7NEWS to describe what happened. “We were on a caravanning and camping holiday and of course we took all the surfboards,” she said. “We were all out having a family surf and I said ‘last wave before heading in.’ On that last wave, I’ve come off my board and my head hit the bottom of the ocean. I hurt my head straight away, as soon as it hit the sand. Then I felt my neck and my body flipped over.”
As a former surf lifesaver, she immediately knew something was wrong with her neck and possibly her spine, so she took her leash off and laid on her back and just yelled for help.
“I was really scared,” she continued, holding back tears. “It was really frightening. I’ve saved so many people over my lifetime as a surf lifesaver, and I knew straight away that I would have to go to the hospital.”
Luckily, her husband Jared, a firefighter and also a surf lifesaver, was nearby. He, along with a few bystanders, leaped into action.
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“I scooped Brooke up onto the board and then we had to just turn her around and I had to take the brunt of the force of waves,” Jared said. “We just had to get Brooke as close to shore as possible before I could lift her off.”
Once they were able to get onto the beach, good Samaritans were already rushing to help. And considering the circumstances, Hanson couldn’t have been in better hands. One was a trauma surgeon, two others were surf lifesavers, and another was an off-duty lifeguard.
“We just got together and put her back on the board,” Jared continued. “Then we had to carry her up to the caravan park.”
Once there, the waiting paramedics took over and transported her to Coffs Harbour Hospital, where her injuries were assessed. As it turned out, Hanson had suffered a micro fractures in her C3 and C4 as well as an anterior ligament tear at C3 and C4.
All things told, it could have been far worse, and Hanson is aware of just how lucky she is to be able to say she’ll make a full recovery. She’ll likely be back in the water in just a few months.
“I’m feeling grateful to be walking out of hospital knowing I have the opportunity to make a full recovery,” she wrote. “Thanks to my beautiful family and my salt-of-the-earth friends for your love and support. Now it’s time to rest and heal.”
Hanson, who has been swimming since she was four, was the youngest swimmer on the Australian National Team at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. She nabbed a fourth place finish, but it would be eight years before she was able to qualify for another international event. That was the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The next year, at the 2003 World Aquatics Championships, Hanson finished second in the 50-meter breaststroke and sixth in the 100-meter breaststroke. The year after that, she won a gold medal as part of the Australian 4×100-meter medley relay team and a silver in the 100-meter breaststroke. Just a few weeks later, she won six gold medals at the 2004 FINA Short Course World Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Now 45 years old, she’s been retired from competitive swimming since 2007. She filled her time since hanging up the goggles wisely, though — she’s a successful television host and product ambassador as well as a mother. She also does motivational speaking and leads swim clinics to promote healthy living for her fellow Australians.