Race car driver Aimee’s new drive to put people back on their feet

A young Dublin woman who was forced to change career direction after a high speed motor racing crash has used her traumatic experience to inspire and help dozens of people to regain their mobility.

Aimee Kershaw was travelling at over 180kph on the Kirkistown racetrack in Northern Ireland in 2013 when her race car experienced oversteer and spun round into a collision on the grass banking on the track’s main straight.

The crash threw Aimee’s saloon car into an air roll and the impact of landing on its wheels crushed her L1 vertebrae and left her sitting in agony as emergency services worked for two hours to free her from the tangled mess.

The Stillorgan woman was 25 years old at the time and was an experienced driver having spent three years racing after been drawn to the sport by a lifelong interest and love of fast cars.

“They took me out of the car in my seat and slid me onto a spinal board. I was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where a team of spinal specialist had no option but to operate the injuries were so severe,” Aimee recalls.

“They used titanium rods to fuse three of my vertebrae into one to stabilise and take the pressure off my L1 vertebrae. It was a challenging procedure with a 1 in 200 chance that it would leave me paralysed,” she added.

Aimee’s worst fears were allayed when she able to take two steps the following afternoon but those painful first steps proved to be the first steps towards a new future and the end of her career in insurance.

“I knew I could walk but for the next six weeks I could only walk if I hunched over and kept my hands on my legs. I wasn’t strong enough to support myself standing upright. Hunching was the best I could do,” said Aimee.

Four weeks of rehabilitation at Dublin’s Mater Hospital helped to improve her mobility but Aimee was not happy with the progress she was making or achieving from intense sessions of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy.

“I was on so many pain killers a day. I was told I would be on them for life which was enough for me to start researching what I could do to make myself stronger. It was at that point that I embarked on my own journey,” recalled Aimee.

Gentle walks around her housing estate were followed by a decision to hire a personal trainer to help her start machine work to slowly build up her muscle strength. She progressed to strength and conditioning work and within time was walking upright and well enough to stop taking painkillers.

“I had no interest in fitness before my accident. I used to work in insurance but I couldn’t go back to it because I couldn’t sit all day. I decided to do a personal training course and to use my experience to help people with pain and back injury to recover. I knew that if I could do it then they could do it too,” said Aimee.

Aimee has now helped some 50 people with back injuries to recover and regain their mobility since she started her business Limitless Fitness and embarked on a new career as a personal trainer at FLYEfit where she has recently been promoted to manage the FLYEfit gym in Dundrum.

“People are afraid to go to the gym if they have a back injury but it is one of the things you can do to help your condition. You don’t have to be on painkillers for life. My mission at FLYEfit is to help people who have experienced similar back injury to me. Empathy goes a long way. I’ve been through it and I know what they are going through,” she said.

“I start off by making sure that those I work with are physically able. I look at their body weight, balance and stabilisation of their core and building their strength gradually. I start on improving bodyweight single leg work. Once they are comfortably active we move to strength and conditioning,” she explained.

“I was told I’d never dead-lift, that I’d be on painkillers for life, that I’d never be pain free or able to walk upright. If anything that drove me to work harder. You can’t go by what one doctor or surgeon tells you. You are in charge of your own life and there is a lot you can do if you put your mind to it,” she continued.

While she has found this to be true Aimee has chosen to listen to the advice of her medical team when it comes to her love of motor racing.

“I wanted to get back into it but the risks are too great when three of my vertebrae are fused together. There is a 90% chance of being paralysed if I crashed. I got away with it once. It changed my life and led me to life as a personal trainer, a career at FLYEfit and a belief that everything you chose to do is limitless when you put your mind to it,” said Aimee.