Botched jump led to years of hell
IMAGINE you're falling - falling 4500m at 200km/h. And then something goes very, very wrong.
Hilary Judith had always wanted to skydive. She longed to see the curve of the earth, feel the wind on her cheeks, and weightless, zooming to the ground at unthinkable speeds.
Her first jump was a dream come true. So, of course, the 25-year-old adrenaline junkie decided to jump again. But that's when everything went downhill.
It was Friday May 13, 2010.
And for a moment, she was afraid. Almost as if she could sense what was to come.
"I couldn't move."
She reminded herself she'd done it before, and everything would be fine. Before she knew it, they were backflipping towards the ground.
Ms Judith felt peaceful in the free fall. It was blissful looking at the world below, so tiny, so still. Until she felt her instructor struggling behind her - the parachute was malfunctioning.
"I realised we were going to die."
"The last thing I'd see would be beautiful, and I'd be dead before I'd be in any pain."
Just as she'd made peace with the thought of death, she felt the sharpest pain of her life through her spine. But it was the best pain she'd ever felt - it was the parachute, working last minute, violently jerking them upwards by the shoulders and groin, saving them from the unforgiving ground below.
Three seconds earlier, she could see trees, just below her feet. Three seconds earlier, she was sure she was going to die - and then her feet touched the ground.
Everything went black. There was the sound of faint bells ringing in the distance.
She and the instructor laughed the incident off - she didn't want anyone to worry. She didn't tell anyone. She was planning to jump again soon, and was busy creating her perfect life. She refused to let doctors and a few cracked ribs, a pulled back and some bruises ruin everything.
Six months later, she knew something was wrong.
"It felt like it was being ripped apart by wild animals."
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is a condition characterised by extreme pain, swelling, tumours and body changes. The pain is considered to be worse than amputation, and childbirth. There is no cure. It's caused by trauma - like a skydiving accident.
Ms Judith's body was reliving the accident, over and over again. Even breathing was difficult.
Soon, she was completely wheelchair-bound, had to quit work and drop out of university.
She was also in an abusive relationship with a man who wouldn't let her friends or family visit. She was isolated - but she needed his help.
"I couldn't do anything anymore. I couldn't even hold a pen in my hand."
Suddenly, everything she had worked towards and aspired to was gone. Before long, she was depressed and suicidal. She lost hope. Eventually, her boyfriend even stopped her from seeing doctors.
"He wanted to have control over me rather than see me get better."
"He told me what to take. If I refused, he'd shove them down my throat."
"I felt so out of control. All I had was food."
Her weight skyrocketed to 150kg.
She knew things needed to change - but the last time she'd tried to leave him, he'd put a gun against her head.
"I was convinced this man would kill me."
She hatched a plan. She told him she wanted to get off the medication so she could fall pregnant - something he'd always wanted.
"I knew he wouldn't beat me if he thought I was trying to get pregnant."
But she hid birth control pills in her bra, and a phone to discretely text her best friend in the army, in case things went wrong.
Off the medication, Ms Judith began to learn to walk again. Before long, she could walk short distances with a cane. Things got better - until one day her boyfriend came up with a get-rich quick scheme.
"He pulled a gun on me and told me I was going to help him rob someone."
She tried to refuse, but the crazy gleam in his eye terrified her. He used her to gain access to a man's hotel room, before demanding money at gunpoint. All she could do was stand, frozen and shaking.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Ms Judith opened it, and had never been happier to see a police officer in her life. Someone had phoned them after hearing the commotion in the room. Ms Judith was rushed out of the room and held against the wall.
"They cuffed me and questioned me for six hours, and put me in jail."
She was locked up in the violent crimes block for five months. Her health deteriorated as she waited to explain what had happened to a judge. Thankfully, she was granted bail for medical treatment.
While on bail she finally reunited with her family after being estranged from them during the relationship.
A few weeks later, the judge let her off with probation.
"I was so grateful I had a life again. It felt amazing to exist by my own rules."
Desperate to get her life back, she tried a plant-based diet after a cousin told her he'd gotten off several medications by changing what he ate.
Within a month, she was walking - much to the amazement of her therapist. She said within a year, she'd be rock climbing. Her therapist was dubious.
But she was determined. Starting with hikes, she watched her friends rock climb. Soon these weekly hikes began to include light climbing. Eventually Ms Judith was on a rope, hanging from a gym wall.
"I was crying tears of joy, because I'd made it to the top. Truly one of the best moments of my entire life."
Her pain never decreased - but the inflammation went down, and a spinal cord simulator allowed her to use her legs and arms again.
Not only regaining her movement, Ms Judith took back control of her life. She found love with her best friend - the one she'd texted with a hidden bra phone. They're talking about living together - and even marriage. Life is the most stable it's been in a long time.
But her abusive ex is due for release in April this year.
It's been seven years since the accident. But she's grateful for the hope she's been able to give others. If she can find happiness, anyone can.
Would she ever go skydiving again?
Yes. If it were up to her, she'd go tomorrow - but it would scare her loved ones, knowing she could possibly die.
For now, she's content with climbing a wall with a rope. Much safer.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).