Accident leads to appreciation of life

Kate Dunlevey, pictured with horse Harry, traded cycling for horses. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Kate Dunlevey, pictured with horse Harry, traded cycling for horses. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Life came to a sudden halt for Kate Dunlevey in October.

In a ‘‘random’’ accident, the Dunedin-based environmental management consultant broke her neck in two places (C1 and C7) falling down stairs in Queenstown and colliding with a wall head-first at the bottom.

For someone who led a particularly active lifestyle and enjoyed high-risk activities, it was a ‘‘bit unfortunate’’. But while people commented how unlucky it was, she felt like she had ‘‘just won Lotto’’.

‘‘I can walk,’’ she said.

There was no time to think about what could happen — ‘‘In my head, it was all positive, it’s the only way to be in that situation’’ — and her only focus in Christchurch Hospital, where she was flown and underwent an operation, was to ‘‘nail the recovery’’ and give herself the best chance she could to get back to normal.

‘‘My room in hospital overlooked Hagley Park; I remember looking at people walking their dogs and going for a run, thinking, ‘I wish I could be out there doing that’.

‘‘It’s the small things that really matter in life when you’re in that situation. Everything else becomes irrelevant.

‘‘It’s astonishing the things people go out of their way to do when times are tough.’’

‘‘In hindsight ... I feel very very lucky and appreciative things worked out the way they did. They could have been a lot worse.’’

Ms Dunlevey was grateful to have supportive friends, family and colleagues, saying surrounding herself with such good people made ‘‘the light feel that much closer at the end of the tunnel’’.

From an urban background, a passion for the agriculture sector was not something that was bred into her. But she believed it was something you were ‘‘born with’’ which evolved as the years went on.

She always had an affinity for animals, particularly horses which she discovered later in life when the former New Zealand junior track cycling representative sold her bikes and bought her first horse.

Sport had been her top priority while at secondary school, particularly cycling, and representing New Zealand at the junior world championships provided her with grit, determination and resilience she now used in everyday life, she said.

But she later chose ‘‘living’’ and a tertiary degree, with the full university experience, over a potential sporting career, and she had no regrets about that.

‘‘I swear by listening to your intuition. It always seems to take you the right place,’’ she said.

On reflection, and with the recent publicity around the pressures and culture in top-level cycling, it made her realise that she had made the right decision.

And the passion she had for horses was greater than that she had for cycling, she said.

Ms Dunlevey embarked on her tertiary studies at Lincoln University, armed with a sports scholarship, to study commerce (agriculture). The experience provided her with a lot more life experience, a further love for agriculture, but a dislike for the commerce side.

So she returned home to Southland and worked on a dairy farm while she figured out what she wanted to do. She signed up for the environmental degree at SIT because it was practical, hands-on and involved soil science.

She landed her first job at Environment Southland where she learned how councils operated, grew her network and met some ‘‘awesome people’’, before moving to Compass Agribusiness.

Most of her work involved helping clients navigate environmental challenges, providing practical strategy around carbon, greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater regulations, predominantly through farm environmental planning.

Ms Dunlevey was proud to be part of the agricultural sector, saying the people involved were the most innovative, hard working, down-to-earth and community-driven people she had met.

‘‘It’s amazing how resilient farmers are and the positive changes they have implemented over the last five years.

‘‘I don’t think they give themselves enough credit.’’

Life should be ‘‘back to normal’’ for Ms Dunlevey in six months. She would be back riding ‘‘safe’’ horses, in the gym and her doctor had convinced her to start surfing which was on her ‘‘long list of things to do’’.

‘‘All risks have to be calculated now that my neck will never be structurally the same. As a lover of high-risk activities and all things challenging, I will have to try and discover what calculated risk means for me going forward.

‘‘In the meantime, I’m not wasting any time doing the other things I enjoy — hunting, fishing, diving — life is too short not to make the most. You never know what is around the corner.’’

Her involvement with horses had given her some of her favourite memories and had taken her all over the countryside.

While a self-described ‘‘people person’’, she enjoyed working with horses, saying they seemed to be less complicated than humans.

She particularly enjoyed working with young horses; she liked how much they continually taught her and it was rewarding earning a strong bond with an animal.

‘‘Once you have that, a good horse will put itself on the line for you.’’

Just before her accident, Ms Dunlevey had broken in her first stallion — who had since been gelded — and it brought her solace to know she would be riding him on the hunt field next year.

‘‘To have been close to giving up what I love doing most is gut-wrenching. However, as a strong believer in not dwelling on the past, the accident has provided me with a new way of looking at life.

‘‘The small things don’t seem to matter as much and I have a new appreciation for all the things I have and can do today.

‘‘In a busy world and a fast-paced lifestyle, people seem to forget to do that these days.’’

Comments

I take my hat off to you. Great mentality and spirit!

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