A ‘freak’ accident sidelines lifelong athlete with severe spinal cord injury

Click to play video: 'Women’s football team honours paralyzed teammate' Women’s football team honours paralyzed teammate
WATCH: After suffering a severe spinal cord injury, one lifelong athlete is sharing her story of recovery and survival. – May 13, 2017

Some people have natural athletic abilities, and Quebec-born Erin Saari, is one of them.

“I’ve been playing sports my entire life. I grew up playing soccer, played basketball, volleyball. Any sport really, you name it, I’ve played it,” Saari said.

Her “try anything” attitude led her to join Nova Scotia’s one and only women’s football team, the Halifax Xplosion.

The Halifax Xplosion are Nova Scotia’s only women’s football team. Global Halifax/Alexa MacLean

She quickly bonded with the squad during her first season and solidified her position on the defensive line as a safety.

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“I absolutely loved it!” she said.

Little did she know, shortly after the season ended, her life would change forever.

Saari was hanging out at her friend’s pool when she decided to dive in a few times.

On her last dive, she ended up hitting her head off the bottom of the pool.

“I tried to stand up. I couldn’t stand. I tried to wave my arms and I couldn’t do that. So, I just started waving my head around and started yelling and ended up drowning — and I was revived,” Saari said.

Saari broke her C4 vertebrae in her neck and spent the next 10 months in hospital.

“I just thought this is me for the rest of my life — you hear paralysis and you think, ‘That’s it,'” Saari said.

She found a glimmer of hope when she learned her spinal cord wasn’t completely severed and therefore considered an “incomplete” spinal cord injury.

Meaning, there was a possibility she could regain mobility in her limbs and even walk again.

“You can be ‘incomplete’ and you might just get your arms back and that’s it. I’ve been lucky enough to get quite a bit of movement back,” she said.

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She’s taking her recovery in stride and hopes her accident serves as a message for people to think twice about the dangers of diving.

“It’s a reality, it happens. Whether you’re boating and you’re diving into the water and you don’t know what’s underneath — you [could] hit a rock. Even at the beach, there’s sandbars, you never know. The best thing to do is just to be careful,” Saari said.

Her teammates are honouring her courageous recovery by dedicating their season to her and working to raise donations for spinal cord injury research.

“This girl is inspirational, she’s driven, she’s fierce. We’re doing this one for her. If she can do this, there’s no reason why we can’t do our best and give it all we got out there,” Tasha McMaster, Saari’s teammate, said.

Despite her painful recovery, Saari says she now doesn’t take anything in life for granted and hopes others won’t either.

“Being grateful for every little moment in life is very important. I think that’s really important for everyone to take in — that’s something that I really learned.”

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