A year and a half after a horseback riding accident left her paralyzed from the chest down, a Manitoba jockey just got back behind the wheel.
Four days ago, Alyssa Selman drove her car for the first time since she was thrown from a horse during a race at Winnipeg's Assiniboia Downs, hitting the ground with enough force to fracture her vertebrae and badly damage her spinal cord.
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"I was so nervous. I didn't want to reverse, so I had them park the car so I could just start driving and go straight right away," she said. "But it didn't take me long. By the time we got to where we were going I was reversing and backing out of there."
"I didn't want to stop. I just wanted to keep driving. When I'm driving, no one knows that I would be any different. I'm exactly the same on the road as anybody else."
Hour-long road test
To drive without use of her legs, Selman uses a push-rock system, installed by a local company and comprised of a lever she pushes forward to brake and rocks backward to accelerate.
"At first, you want to move your legs. You just want to push on the gas or the brake, usually the brake. It's tricky, the first couple of times," she said. "Maybe the first two days I had to think about it, and then it was natural."
Before she could drive again, Selman had to be cleared by Manitoba Public Insurance and health officials. The process took six months to organize and included an interview with MPI, a 40-minute simulation and an hour-long road test.
Selman is grateful for her new independence. Her family home is about 10 minutes outside Carman, Man., so a vehicle is necessary for most trips.
"I was never a homebody. I was on the go all the time. This has been the biggest challenge, sitting here trying to be a homebody," Selman said.
Now that she's comfortable driving again, she said she's not sure yet where she'll go.
"I don't even know where to begin. Just the past four days, being able to drive, I have been driving. I have been going somewhere every day, just because I can."
Hopes to ride a horse again soon
Selman said she's looking forward to a busy summer driving her kids to activities — including horseback riding.
"I will be hopefully riding in the next month and I would like to do some trail riding this summer with the kids, since they all have ponies and I have my own horse, that is very, very quiet," she said.
She's expecting a special saddle that will allow her to ride a horse without the use of her legs.
"My saddle should be in very shortly," she said. "I can't wait to use it. I can't wait to see it."
In addition to driving, Selman recently had a breakthrough somewhere else: she can now flex some of the muscles in her abdomen. Although she can't feel the skin, she said she can feel the muscles tightening.
"It's pretty exciting. I don't know what it means yet. It could just mean I have a couple abs, which is awesome, and maybe a little more torso movement, I don't know," she said.
"I don't know if it means there would be anything more coming back, or this is it. Nobody knows anything. But it's good. I just know it's good.