Brain injury survivor to run marathon: ‘Jonty Evans’ fall made me want to help’

  • Sophie McCormack, who suffered a serious brain injury in an eventing fall in 2015, is running the Paris marathon next year to raise money for the centres which helped with her rehabilitation.

    “A year after I got out of hospital I did the Blenheim Palace Triathlon, to raise money for the two places that helped me. I recorded an awful time as I was still recovering,” Sophie told H&H. “I always had it in the back of my mind that when I was fully recovered I’d do something where I was able to really push myself and raise money for them while in full health.”

    The recent serious brain injury suffered by Irish event rider Jonty Evans, who is still unconscious more than a month after his accident, has acted as a spur for Sophie.

    “Like everyone else, I was horrified by the news of Jonty’s fall and reading about it really affected me as there is a lot of crossover between what happened to me and him,” she explained. “Seeing how horrible it is for his family made me think what it was like for everyone when I was in the same situation, with nothing to report day to day.

    “I feel incredibly lucky to have made the recovery I have. It’s taken a long time and a lot of different people have helped. I still feel indebted to them and I wanted to do something. I feel obligated to raise money to build on the services that helped me, so they can help other people.”

    Sophie’s accident was a rotational fall while competing in the novice at Rockingham in May 2015. She was in an induced coma for a week and suffered a diffuse axonal brain injury, multiple broken bones and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

    After her initial spell in hospital, Sophie spent seven weeks in the Central England Rehabilitation Unit in Leamington, where she went from being bed-bound, unable to speak, talk or eat, to walking out of hospital.

    The other centre Sophie is raising money for is the Injured Jockeys Fund’s Oaksey House, where she regained her coordination, strength and stamina, so she could return to sport after her injury.

    Sophie, 23, has just finished her final year at Exeter University, where she was studying history and politics. She has now applied for the strategy and security services masters at the same university.

    “I joined the triathlon club as a way to get my fitness up to scratch and I’ve run a couple of half marathons, at the end of which I’ve thought you have to be an absolute idiot to run a marathon,” she admitted. “But then I thought I’m probably the fittest I’ve ever been, so why not? I googled ‘flat marathons’ and Paris came up. I’ve never been to Paris or done a marathon.”

    Sophie will be aiming to run the marathon, on 14 April 2019, in less than four hours and she hopes to raise £2,000 in total so that the Central England Rehabilitation Unit and Oaksey House each receive £1,000.

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    Sophie’s horse As You Like It IV (“Pete”) was put down as a result of the injuries he suffered in the fall and while she evented again last year, she says she is not planning to do so again this year.

    “Riding is a huge part of me, but I’m leaving it alone for now,” she said. “I’ve proved to myself and everyone that I am fine as everyone said I must be petrified, but I have no memory of the accident so I’m not scared. But now I’d rather wait and do it on my terms — everything that happened was not on my terms, I’ve struggled with PTSD and I never really think about my accident or eventing.

    “It does made me quite sad still and whenever I sat on any horse I always likened it to Pete. Because I have no memory of losing him, I have a lot to contend with, so I’d rather wait until I really want to do it and it’ll be happy rather than sad.

    “It’s been nice being able to take up a sport that’s filled the void that eventing has left — running is very competitive, you’re pushing yourself hard and training crazy hours, so I’ve found some overlap with eventing and found it really helpful.”

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