Real Life

Steve Gurney:

Extreme sports legend Steve Gurney is used to living on the edge, but even he couldn't believe it when he walked away from his crumpled car after it was struck by a train.Steve (48) has had several highly

Extreme sports legend Steve Gurney is used to living on the edge, but even he couldn’t believe it when he walked away from his crumpled car after it was struck by a train.

Steve (48) has had several highly publicised near-death experiences from his sporting adventures. However, none of them compared to the terror of looking out his car window while crossing the tracks in Rangiora and seeing a train steaming towards his car, just five metres away.

“There was no time to run.  The car was midway across the lines and I was going really slowly. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of here!’ I jammed my foot on the accelerator, I pushed it through the floor. The car moved about a metre before it hit.”

When the passenger train struck the back door of Steve’s four-wheel drive, the car spun 360? and flew into a lamppost, which was flattened by the force of the impact. The car was wrecked and one of his ski boots was found 200 metres away from the scene, but Steve himself escaped with just a sore neck and some bruises.

“I walked away. You see it in the movies. I felt like James Bond, like it was a miracle.

For the next few days I was oscillating between tears and maniacal laughter because I was ecstatic I was alive,” says the former Dancing with the Stars contestant, who published his autobiography, Lucky Legs, three years ago.

Steve is sponsored by carmaker Subaru, and believes his vehicle, a Subaru outback, saved his life. “The bonnet and the back end were smashed in but the passenger compartment is intact and all the air bags went off.”

Steve also believes his rough-and-tumble sporting pursuits helped prepare him for the impact.

“I’ve learned instinctively to relax and my last thought was, ‘Let your unconscious reaction take over,'” says Steve. He will never forget the relief on the train driver’s face when he found him alive.

Steve is still baffled by how he failed to see the train coming. He didn’t black out and there was no music playing in the car, but he recalls his mind drifting off as he looked out his windscreen at the snowy mountains.

“It was early in the morning. I was looking and wondering if there was fresh snow, and I was anticipating the day’s adventures.”

The nine-times Coast to Coast endurance-race winner was on his way to a meeting to plan the Peak to Pub event in oethven on the morning of the accident.

“Ironically, we were doing a safety plan that day.”

Steve retired from racing in 2007 and now develops sports-related gear and is a motivational speaker.

Ten days before the accident, he had moved to his sister’s place in Rangiora because his own property at Redcliffs in Christchurch had become unstable due to the earthquakes.

He was still getting used to having to look for trains while crossing the tracks on his sister’s street. “These days, we’ve got a lot on our minds about what we’re doing next and what bills need to be paid, and I think it’s easy to get distracted.

“I’m not used to seeing a train and I think I just wasn’t looking for one,” he explains.

There are no barrier arms or bells at the crossing but there is a stop sign and a warning to look for trains.

“I’m not denying I should’ve stopped, but I think I was distracted. I made a mistake,” says Steve. He is likely to face charges relating to the accident.

It’s not the first time Steve’s had a close call with death.

He fractured his shoulder and jaw when he crashed while driving a kite buggy across the Sahara in 2009.

And in 1995, Steve was racing in the jungle of Borneo when a cut on his leg became infected after coming into contact with bat dung, causing him to almost die from leptospirosis. His father was called to his hospital bedside in Singapore, but Steve pulled through.

His own personal philosophy is, “Life truly begins at the edge of your comfort zone,” which he has applied to all areas of his life. “That’s why I went on Dancing with the Stars, because I knew it would be a challenge.”

Steve’s latest close call has seen him dwelling on why he survived. “I’ve got a lot more to teach people,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of knowledge to share and I know I can make a difference.”

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