Olympic hopeful re-imagines her life

Turning Points Janine Shepherd_00000606
Turning Points Janine Shepherd_00000606

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Olympic hopeful re-imagines her life 01:36

Story highlights

  • Janine Shepherd was a cross-country skier before her accident
  • She is now a best-selling author and motivational speaker

Janine Shepherd is the author of the upcoming book "Defiant: A Broken Body is Not a Broken Person"

(CNN)Janine Shepherd is wrapping up a speech about her life with one important piece of advice for the crowd in Los Angeles, "Our bodies may be limited but it's our spirits that are unstoppable."

Janine is a best-selling author and travels the world giving motivational speeches.
    But this wasn't always her goal.
    Janine Shepherd cross-country skiing.
    Janine's first dream was of winning Olympic gold.
    In 1986, she was a world-class skier preparing to represent Australia at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Then, while out on a training bike ride, tragedy struck.
    "My last memory was riding up a hill with my fellow teammates and then just waking up in a spinal ward and being told I was paralyzed."
    Janine was struck by a speeding truck and suffered extensive injuries. Her neck and back were broken in six places. She also broke her collarbone, one of her arms and bones in her feet. She had head injuries, internal injuries and lost 5 liters of blood. Doctors did not think she would survive.
    "By the time the helicopter and rescue team reached the hospital in Sydney, my blood pressure was 40 over nothing," says Shepherd.
    But miraculously, she pulled through.

    One step at a time

    After six months in the spinal ward and a delicate back surgery, Janine left the hospital in a plaster body cast and a wheelchair but immediately started working on her first goal in rebuilding her life: learning to walk again.
    Shepherd was in a spinal ward for six months.
    "It was a gradual process. I started by pushing my wheelchair around, then by walking around the household holding on to furniture. Then, I'd have two people holding me up, then one. It was a real slow, progressive thing. Eventually, I managed to be able to walk on my own."
    But as Janine started to recover, she realized the full scope of her loss.
    "Everything I valued in my life and all my goals were shattered. For an athlete it was probably my worst nightmare," says Shepherd. "I knew that I had to find something to replace everything that I lost."

    Out of the blue

    Then one day, literally out of thin air, Janine had an epiphany.
    "I was sitting outside in my plaster body cast and an airplane flew over. At that moment, my mind was open and I remember thinking, 'That's it. If I can't walk, then maybe I can fly."
    Because she was still in her body cast, Janine had to be lifted into the cockpit for her first flying lesson.
    "I'm sure my flying instructor thought I was crazy and I was never coming back, but once I was on that flight and tasted the freedom and exhilaration of flying, I thought, 'I can do this.'"
    Shepherd earned her pilot's license within a year of her first flight.
    It became Janine's new focus in life. Within 12 months of her first flight, she had earned her pilot's license and by 18 months she earned her flying instructor rating. Eventually, Janine became Australia's youngest and first female director of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
    "It was a completely unlikely but amazing journey."
    But she didn't stop there. Her first memoir, "Never Tell Me Never," became a best-seller and hit movie in Australia.
    Now, she is using her story to inspire others.
    "I feel that my accident was a gift because I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gone through those challenges. Real strength has nothing to do with our physical bodies. We all have this incredible innate capacity to defy and overcome whatever we face in life."