Having dreamt of representing her country at the Olympic Games since the age of eight, middle-distance runner Angie Petty will get the chance to realise her childhood fantasy when she competes in the 800m race in Rio de Janeiro in August.
But it hasn’t been a straightforward journey to Brazil for the Christchurch athlete. Early this year, Angie, 24, had just finished a training run while on an idyllic family holiday in Kaiteriteri when she realised her husband Sam had not returned from a mountain-bike ride after three hours.
Then an ambulance flashed past the house, causing Angie’s cousin to remark that they should pray for those needing help. Little was Angie to know that, at that point, medics had been called out to rescue Sam, 24, who had suffered a horrible accident.
“I went outside to find him and I quickly became aware of a rescue helicopter,” she recalls. “Moments later, my heart skipped a beat when I saw my dad at the bottom of the track, holding Sam’s bike.
“Dad is normally quite stoic, but he looked very emotional and it was then I realised something terrible must have happened. It was pretty scary. There must have been 100 people from the local campsite gathered around the helicopter. Sam was inside with blood down his neck and face.”
Englishman Sam, who moved to New Zealand on a University of Canterbury internship in 2012, had successfully descended the mountain-bike track twice but had opted for a third run. When his wheels became stuck in a rut, he flipped over the handlebars, striking his head on a tree. A group of boys found him and called for help.
A shocked Angie leapt into the rescue helicopter, which rushed to Nelson Public Hospital. Sam had regained consciousness but was confused. He had suffered severe lacerations to his face and had a badly bruised shoulder.
“He looked pleased to see me, but he kept asking the same questions over and over again,” tells Angie.
The athlete was hugely relieved when doctors told her the head injury was just concussion and would leave no lasting damage.
“It was such a relief to hear those words, although it is not an experience I would ever care to repeat,” says Angie.
Sam’s full recovery has been slow. While the wounds have healed and his memory – initially described as “terrible” by his wife of two years – has returned, he still has no recollection of the accident.
A keen triathlete, he quickly returned to swimming and cycling, although the up-and-down motion of running caused him headaches and he has only recently gone back to training alongside his wife.
Angie herself suffered a jolt to her Olympic preparations back in December after enduring her own medical drama. She was suffering from a tummy bug when she suddenly found she couldn’t sit up without feeling dizzy. She soon began vomiting and was rushed to hospital, where she was put on a drip to rehydrate.
“My white blood cell count was high and my resting heart rate was recorded at 75 beats per minute, when typically it would sit at around 45bpm,” recalls Angie.
“It is a bit of a mystery exactly what happened. The doctors said I may have been suffering vertigo or a really bad migraine, but the fact my husband got the tummy bug the next day suggests that may have been the issue.”
Thankfully, the incident only cost Angie three days of precious training time and the Cantabrian – who won gold in the 800m at the World University Games last year – has since bounced back to secure first place in both the 800m and 1500m at this year’s Athletics New Zealand Track and Field Championships.
Training up to 80km a week – and adopting a gluten-free diet for the past year after discovering a food intolerance – Angie now hopes to put these fraught incidents behind her by making her husband, family and country proud at the Olympics.
“It’s been a dream of mine for so long,” she says. “I’m just so lucky Sam, who himself used to run and often trains with me, can fully share in that experience in Brazil. He’s such an amazing support and I would not be here without him.”
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