A WINTER Olympic hopeful who defied the odds to beat a potentially life-changing injury has told Yeovil schoolchildren how she refused to be beaten by her battle for fitness.
Dorset bobsleigher Serita Shone feared permanent paralysis when German doctors diagnosed a broken spine following a crash on her debut as a brakewoman at the British Championships in Winterberg in November 2011.
The 23-year-old fractured her L1 and L2 vertebrae in her lower back but was described as a "walking miracle" by surgeons when she took her first steps following two operations.
Shone has continued to astound friends, team members and medical experts with her recovery and after months of painful rehabilitation she pushed a sled again in October at the University of Bath's dry track.
Now targeting a New Year return to the ice and even the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Shone is visiting schools across the South West as part of the Sky Sports Living For Sport programme.
On Tuesday she spoke to pupils of Fairmead School in Yeovil, admitting the talk - along with a competitive return - was a moment she thought may never come.
"This gives me something to focus on, to tell my story and explain how I have got from A to B with the tools I have used to develop that," said Shone of Weymouth.
"Hopefully I can pass on that experience and the children can use that during times in their lives when they need it and need a bit of a boost from my story. Hopefully I can leave a positive story that definitely helps mentally.
"There was a point and this is one of things that you never believe could happen. There were times where I thought 'I just can't do this any more' but somehow with the help of everyone else and your own self will you get up and get on with it, and the next day is better.
"It is then that you think 'thank goodness I did not stop'. I did not want to be defined by an injury, I want my career to be defined by how good or how not so good I am.
"For me, being injured was not an option and I had to get to a point where I could compete again – which will hopefully be in the next few months – and then anything after that is a bonus.
Fairmead caters for children aged 4-16-years-old with moderate learning difficulties and complex needs. Physical education teacher Stephen Coles said the pupils could learn from Shone's example.
"PE and sport is a great leveller for our students," he said. "We had a survey to see which subject the children enjoyed the most and PE came out on top. They have also got great challenges in life.
"We had an assem- bly and showed them Serita, who has had some great adversity in her life, and I thought it would be great for our children to realise that there is no challenge they cannot have a go at.
"They may not achieve them, but there is no reason why they cannot have a go and that is the real reason why we do it. For a school like ours to suddenly have a potential Olympic athlete with us is superb."
With Sochi 2014 less than 15 months away, Shone is focused on qualification but said her first ice outing next year represented a "scary reality" that she was looking forward to.
"It is like any athlete, where you do not know you are actually there until you are there and I will keep trying and training for 2014," she said.
"If I qualify that will be great. If I do not qualify then I will set my goals for a different challenge. I haven't been on ice yet, but I have been on a dry track.
"Now my return to competitive bobsleigh is becoming a reality it is a little bit of a scary reality, but I need to do it and I need to get on with it. It is good that I have that stage planned so I can get back and do it."
Paying tribute to family, friends and coaches for their support over the past year, Shone added: "It has not been easy for anyone and under normal circumstances I am a really difficult person to please. So for my family I have been a bit of a pain but they know me and know what I am like.
"Although they can't understand just how I am feeling they do the best I can to make me as happy and as comfortable as I can.."