Sam Willoughby

60 Minutes
California, USA

The long road ahead

Sam Willoughby says he remembers everything about the accident that changed his life. The BMX champion, who won silver for Australia at the London Olympic Games, recounted the moment when he broke his neck after crashing his bike while training last month.

“I remember everything, unfortunately,” he told the Nine Network’s’ 60 Minutes program on Sunday. “I remember kind of losing my balance and being upside down. And then I remember just lying on the floor and I could see my leg to one side, but I couldn’t feel it.”

Willoughby recounted the terrifying moments a surgeon told him he needed immediate surgery to relieve pressure on his spinal chord, before any of his family had reached the hospital. “I remember just kind of thinking ‘no one’s here’, none of my family,” Willoughby said, holding back tears. “What is this guy doing? Should I be doing this surgery? I was like what are the risks and he said ‘there’s always a risk you could be worse ‘ and I was like... OK then.. well, let’s go.”

The 25-year-old had the accident while training at his local track in Chula Vista, near San Diego, just weeks after returning from competing in the Rio Olympics. He suffered fractures to his C6 and C7 vertebrae, severely compressing his spinal cord and leaving him with no movement below the chest. Willoughby underwent surgery, with the C6 vertebrae removed and replaced by a titanium cage, but the accident has left him a tetraplegic. “I was trying to be really positive. I mean, I’m not stupid. I knew what had happened,” he said, referring to the moments immediately after the accident. Despite the horrific injury, Willoughby says he is determined to stay positive and focus on getting better. He is recuperating at the Craig Hospital in Colorado, where he is being supported by his American fiancée Alise Post, who won BMX silver in Rio. “I’ve never been more proud of him,” Post told Nine. “He’s done a lot of pretty awesome things but I’ve never been more proud of his work ethic and dedication.”

Despite the accident, Willoughby says he is determined to walk his bride down the aisle at their wedding, planned for next April.

October 15, 2016