Alexa Leary is one of those truly special people in life. She is a talented Junior Elite Triathlete and World Title Medalist, who was well on her way to a successful career in sport, before she unfortunately suffered a tragic cycling accident. The accident in July 2021 left her with devastating brain and nervous system injuries. Over the past six months, Alexa has had the courage and dedication to make an unanticipated and exceptional recovery, with ongoing rehabilitation and some memory loss.
Alexa spent the first two weeks after her accident in intensive care in an induced coma. Her comeback has been a reflection and of her will to live and the love of those around her.
Alexa and her Mum Belinda have taken the time so their their journey and here is their moving story of finding strength in adversity. We hope you are inspired and moved as much as we are.
Alexa’s story, in her mother, Belinda’s, words:
Alexa grew up on the Gold Coast, then moved to Yamba when she was around 7-8. Shortly after, she started triathlon and swimming. She did all the kids’ triathlons in the nearby areas and won quite a few of them. She always thought it was something she might like to do down the track as a professional. Now she is 20 and had essentially been following that dream up until July 2021.
Our family moved to Noosa 6 years ago, because Alexa’s coach and training squad were here. Triathlon had been Alexa’s life up until then and she was also doing some Personal Training work at the F45 gym in Noosa. She had just started lining up some professional races in her race calendar but was unfortunately in a tragic cycling accident in July 2021 which put these dreams on hold.
Alexa suffered horrific injuries to several parts of her body and brain and is now undergoing extensive rehab for these. They say it takes two full years to get back to normal after a brain injury like Alexa’s, however, being so young and coming from a background of discipline in sport, her recovery is proving to be ahead of schedule.
Whilst Alexa shows no desire to get back on a bike anytime soon, she has started swimming again and has qualified as being eligible for a category in the para-Commonwealth Games, due to limited range of motion in her right arm. She would love to qualify for the 50m or 100m freestyle event and feels that the accident has only made her more determined and driven mentally.
Alexa would also like to go to schools and do more motivational speaking. She is back in the gym and would love to start driving soon too. Her sister has helped her build a charity organisation, ‘Move for Lex,’ and many people have supported her journey and given her strength.
Alexa’s OUTSTANDING Results Prior to her accident:
Two National Age Group Australian Olympic Distance Triathlons Gold Medals
Silver Medal in World Age Group Championships in Switzerland
Four National Schools Gold Medals in Swimming
Two Gold Medals at Noosa Triathlon in the 16-19 Year Age Group
Tell us a little about your story, Alexa and how it has felt coming home.
The accident happened on 17th July, when I was out on a training ride with a group of riders, going down a hill at around 70kph. No one really knows what happened, whether I hit a rock on the road or clipped someone’s wheel, but I ended up with a broken collar bone, shattered kneecap, broken ribs, bad bruises and cuts, and a serious brain injury.
I was sent straight to the Sunshine Coast hospital in an ambulance, however, they were unable to do anything, so I was helicoptered to the Royal Hospital in Brisbane.
They didn’t think I would make the journey there, but I survived and was placed in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital in an induced coma. It was very touch and go as to whether I would make it, but after 12 days, I was placed in the neuro ward, where I stayed for 8 ½ weeks.
This is an extremely long time to be kept in the ward, but my brain kept swelling and filling with fluid, so they had to remove the bone from the left-hand side of my skull and replace it with a shunt to help drain the fluid.
I went from the neuro ward to a rehabilitation centre called Biru, in Brisbane. There was a massive waiting list for Biru, as they only have 26 beds, but I was fortunate enough to be given a place. They said I would be here for 6 months. However, I was out after 6 weeks. I was allowed to have weekends at home at the start, then allowed to come home for good.
My mother and father moved to Brisbane during throughout this whole period and rented accommodation there. We are now all back on the Sunshine Coast and it is a blessing to be back home with friends, family and loved ones. Three days a week I spend time at a rehabilitation place called Eden, which I will continue to go to for another few weeks before being able to have more home-based treatment in Noosa.
What has been the most difficult part of your recovery and what has motivated you to see it through?
Frustration at not being able to do what I used to do. Having no hair – all I want is my hair back. I know I will be able to do everything again though, just later down the track. So, I have to be patient.
Also, the Move for Lex Instagram page @moveforlex , which my sister set up for me, has really inspired me, with the idea of people moving and exercising out there for people who can’t. Every day seeing people’s support and encouragement along with all the kind gifts people have been sending me has kept me motivated. All the beautiful messages, the power of love and positivity have ultimately carried me through this period.
Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?
I’d like to move to the Gold Coast and work there at an F45 gym. I would like to keep swimming too and keep motivating people. To keep motivating people is my biggest goal.
Has the accident made you stronger?
Definitely. It has made me appreciate a lot more things, one of which is that life can be taken away so suddenly.
The old me would often be a bit negative and wouldn’t like to get close to people, including family sometimes.
Have you ever doubted yourself along the way and how have you dealt with the negative thoughts?
Before the accident, at times I felt as though I didn’t want to do triathlon anymore. Yet a part of me still wanted to, I felt like I was plagued with far more doubt before the accident than I am now. Perhaps it has given me a different perspective on life.
So now, I’ve just been trying to work out who I am after the accident, who was the old me and who is the new me. Where am I now and what do I want to be? It can be confusing at times, but I don’t really have any really negative days. I love singing and dancing and often I find I can sing or dance away any negativity.
I also enjoy talking to strangers about the accident and sharing my experiences. I am often approached by people who have questions or who have heard my story. I hope that I can be an inspiration for them along their way.
And what advice do you have for anyone going through hardship, in whatever shape or form, in life?
I also think its good to talk about what you are experiencing too and ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to talk to people who you don’t know sometimes too as often you can learn so much from the people around you.