By Jon Lees
New Zealand: Maija Vance, the jockey who was told she would never walk again after a horrific race fall, has started riding trackwork in the latest stage of an extraordinary recovery from life-changing injuries.
In September 2018 the 29-year-old suffered 13 rib fractures and broke her back in five places with the T8 vertebra crushing her spinal cord and leaving her with no feeling or movement from the waist down.
Now she is riding out for trainer Tarissa Mitchell and even talking of one day “riding on racedays” again.
“I’m doing really good,” she said in an interview with Radio TAB Australia. “I’ve been working very closely with my physio, trying to get back to riding racehorses. So I’ve just started back on the track now and it’s going really, really well.
“I’m just riding some quiet ones pacework, and hopefully will work up from there. I’m riding work for Tarissa Mitchell. She also had an accident a couple of years ago. She’s been really helpful and understands.
“It’s hard for me to put timeframes on things because my legs don’t work like a normal person’s, so I kind of just have to try and see what works for them and how long they take to recover, so I leave a few days in between when I ride trackwork to let them recover properly. Then I put my irons up a little bit and ride a bit shorter.
”I’m in a little bit of pain all the time but pain doesn’t really affect me that much. The more I do in the gym and the more trackwork I do, the more I am strengthening up my back – and the more I can strengthen the better protected it is.”
Vance, from Cambridge, New Zealand, spent three months in Auckland’s Spinal Rehabilitation Unit, where feeling gradually returned, and after 18 months which included time in a wheelchair and using a walker, she completed a 526-step climb to the top of Mount Maunganui.
She is the daughter of former jockey-turned-trainer Bob Vance, a Cox Plate winner in the saddle, and jockey Jenny Vance, who rode in her native Sweden as Jenny Moller.
Maija has ridden 175 winners in New Zealand and Australia but was having only her fourth ride over jumps when she came down on Zedsational in a hurdle race at Arawa Park. The horse’s trainer Glynn Brick spent many hours with Vance while she was in hospital, but died in a car crash in March.
“They said it was pretty unlikely that I would walk again,” said Vance. “I had 13 rib fractures, which were probably the most painful. The ribs punctured my lungs so they filled up with blood and they had to drain my lungs. I had five vertebrae broken and when the T8 broke it crushed my spinal cord which was what left me paralysed.
“Glynn Brick was there with me the whole time. He got to see me walking the mountain, which made him really happy. Glynn would have never put me on something he thought would fall, it was just very unlucky. He felt absolutely terrible. Unfortunately he passed away a few months ago.”
Nearly NZ$40,000 (£21,000) was raised to help Vance get the help she needed to walk again. Her story has been described as inspirational.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think I am just very lucky.”