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Stacey Copas Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week

Stacey Copas Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week

Disabled Adelaide woman Stacey Copas credits a devastating spinal cord injury for creating the amazing life she has today.

Stacey, 36, a motivational and inspirational speaker, became a quadriplegic at 12 years old after diving into a shallow swimming pool and breaking her neck.

Today she is happily married a sought after thought leader in the area of resilience and training for the 2016 Rio Paralympics after 22 years of inactivity following a pact with herself following her accident to never play sport again.

While the accident changed her life forever she wouldn't change a thing, often remarking that 'walking is overrated!"

Interview with Stacey Copas

Stacey, 34, a sought after motivational and inspirational speaker, became a quadriplegic at 12 years old from diving into a shallow swimming pool and breaking her neck, only took up discus late last year after being identified to have athletic potential at a Paralympic Talent Search day in Adelaide in October.

Question: How did you damage your spinal cord?

Stacey Copas: When I was 12 years old I was cooling off in a backyard pool with my younger brother and some other younger boys. I found that I entertained myself better by climbing up on to the edge of the pool and diving in. I did this over and over. Being yelled at to stop didn't deter me and one time I wanted to make it a perfect dive with less splashing. I thought the best way to do this was to hold my feet together. I took a deep breath and dived in. It seemed like any other dive until I tried to swim back up to the surface and realised I couldn't move. Panic quickly set in and when I couldn't hold my breath any longer I breathed in and blacked out as my lungs filled with water. Later that night in intensive care I was told that I had broken my neck and drowned and it was unlikely I'd ever walk again.

Question: You're very positive about the amazing life you live; how long did it take to become positive again?

Stacey Copas: The first few years were incredibly dark. I would have given anything for it to not be how it was. It wasn't until late high school that I hit a crossroads and realised I had to either give up or get on with it. I chose the latter, but it wasn't until well into adulthood that I come to see what happened to me as an incredible gift. It changed so much and gave me an entirely different outlook on life.

Question: Can you talk us through a typical day for you?

Stacey Copas: Life using a wheelchair means that everything takes way longer. A typical morning just getting up having a shower and getting ready for the day is 2 hours. My day is usually a combination of running my 2 businesses and physical training. I live quite a way out of Adelaide City so spend a lot of time hitching a ride with my husband or in taxis. The best part about what I do day to day is that I get to have conversations and connect with a wide variety of people which I love. By the time I get home in the evening I'm usually still buzzing with energy so I'm up quite late (much to my trainer's despair!), usually writing, tweaking speeches or immersing myself in learning about business and personal development.

Question: What inspired you to become a motivational and inspirational speaker?

Stacey Copas: Looking back it wasn't just a clear path to speaking. It started with a life changing experience volunteering with people with disability in the Solomon Islands in 2011. After that I saw speaking as a way to raise awareness and money to support further work like that. I never wanted to speak about myself. I thought that no-one would find anything interesting about my story and felt self-conscious talking about myself. A mentor gave me a dressing down about how powerful my story is and that speaking is about giving to an audience and that I would be selfish no to share. Once I got up on stage once and found how much I could share and impact people I was converted!

Question: You're training for the 2016 Rio Paralympics – can you tell us about that?

Stacey Copas: My sport of choice is athletics and I'm competing in the 100m. In Paralympic sports there is a classification process to ensure fair competition. I'm in the T51 class which is for quadriplegics with no triceps muscles. I'm actually the first women in Australia in that class so it is a bit of pioneering!

Question: Can you talk us through your training schedule?

Stacey Copas: My schedule is a combination of personal training sessions in a gym with weights, medicine balls and sessions on a rowing machine and sessions out on the track. I'm doing some form of training 6 days most weeks. I also spend a lot of time with meditation and visualisation staying connected with my vision of winning gold in Rio.

Question: What motivated you to break your pact and begin playing sport again?

Stacey Copas: Prior to my accident I was an avid athlete and while in hospital I made a pact with myself that I'd never play sport again as I couldn't do it like I used to. I kept that up for 22 years. A couple of days after my 34th birthday I got this thought from god knows where that it was time to get fit. It is amazing once a decision is made that the universe conspires to make it happen and within days saw an ad for a Paralympic Talent Search. At that event I was surprised to find I was encouraged to pursue a number of sport. Sealing the decision was a letter from the Paralympic Committee saying I had the potential to be a Paralympian – I didn't need to hear any more than that, I got on to it!

Question: What do you hope Australians take from Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week?

Stacey Copas: This week is an important time for the community to become more aware of the impacts of spinal cord injury, and the common causes so that people can be aware of activities and behaviours that can cause it. Having a spinal cord injury is a massive change for the persons entire family and network and the more we can prevent from happening the better. I would like to see the week put a spotlight on the positive stories around spinal cord injury and that more resources and support is needed to help people with an injury to reach their full potential and make the most of their lives. There is a lot of focus on cure which for most is highly important, and in the early days I would have loved to get back on my feet, now it is not on my priorities. I love my life and often joke 'walking is overrated!"

Question: What's next, for you?

Stacey Copas: Life is going full speed ahead, lots of energy obviously on getting to Rio and winning a gold medal. In the more immediate future I have almost finished my first book How To Be Resilient and am striving to be the world's leading inspirational speaker on resilience and seeing the opportunities in change and adversity. Somewhere along the way I would love to get back into developing countries and be a peer mentor for people with disability – helping them see the opportunities they have an empowering them to be active members of their communities, become self-sufficient and start to change their communities to become more inclusive.

Question: What advise do you have for others who may have damaged their spinal cord?

Stacey Copas: Looking back I would have loved to have spoken to someone like myself when I first had an injury. I would love to share with people that while it seems like everything has come to an end for their lives it is actually the beginning of something new. Life isn't over it is just different. While the temptation to withdraw is there stay as connected as possible. Start to look for the bright spots in every day. Think big and don't let some physical setbacks be a deterrent. If I can help someone by having a conversation with them and letting them know that it is shit but it will get better if they choose to shift their focus. Walking isn't essential to achieve big things in life! br>

Interview by Brooke Hunter


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