On 22 March 2016, Tokyo Paralympic dressage rider Beatrice de Lavalette was at Brussels airport preparing to fly to the USA for spring break. The then 17-year-old was on the phone to her brother, when a terrorist standing next to her detonated a nail bomb.
“I remember waking up in the airport, lying down, seeing ash, dust, smoke, fire, darkness – and seeing the light literally coming through from the entrance of the departure hall,” she said.
“I knew that to survive, I needed to get past that door, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t see my left leg, but it was still there. My right leg was at a right angle.”
More than 30 people died and over 300 were injured in the Brussels bombings. Medics initially believed Beatrice would not survive her injuries.
“I was actually triaged as red, which means most likely not to survive, so not a priority.
“So [the emergency services] saw me, but left me behind, because I was bleeding out. There was nothing I could do until I saw a fireman. I remember him saying, ‘There’s one over here,’ because I threw my hand up as high as I could.”
Beatrice, who had ridden all her life, set the goal of competing at the 2020 Games while lying in her hospital bed in the ICU.
“Setting that goal in the ICU five years ago was a dream and being here today is a dream realised,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier about that. I’m very proud of myself, very proud of my team because without them I couldn’t be here.
“It’s just one of those things you dream about and when it happens, you’re just the happiest person in the world.”
Beatrice, 22, partnered the 14-year-old Dreamcatcher gelding Clarc to fifth place in the grade II individual (70.27%) and sixth in the freestyle (72.19%).
“To me personally, it’s a great honour to be here representing the US, having fun with my horse, and just being here after five years of fighting for my life,” she said.
“It’s was really very emotional for me at the end. I was very happy to be here. There was a little tear there – I’m just so happy to be here.
“[My being here shows that] literally anything is possible. I know it’s kind of the usual thing to say, but it’s true. Anything is possible if you just put the hard work in and have a dream. Just go for it,” she said.
“I have flashbacks to what happened all the time, but they don’t bother me. I’ve made my peace with it a long time ago. Even prior to the accident I knew that there was a purpose in my life, but I could never figure it out. I do now.”
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