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Friday, 16 June 2023

Anna Kayaking in Fiordland last week. She says being able to get back to her favourite outdoorsy pursuits has been a huge motivator throughout her recovery.

When Anna Parsons returns to America next month, she will take her climbing ropes and a new point of view with her.

The Otago marine science tauira and keen adventurer heads to Canada to resume study plans disrupted for a year after a life-altering climbing accident.

In August of 2022 she fell 24 meters while climbing Snake Dike in Yosemite and broke her spine, pelvis, ribs, neck and both feet, one of which was subsequently amputated.

Since leaving Burwood spinal unit in Christchurch, where she rehabilitated for six weeks, she has been focused on continuing her recovery and getting back into nature.

Anna says she has trouble with the concept of people calling her journey 'inspirational,' because when you're in a tough situation you 'just have to keep going' but calls fellow adaptive climber Rachel Māia ''a badass''.

Anna is undoubtedly also “a badass”.

She describes Rachel coming to stay with her in Christchurch, giving her her first climbing foot and climbing alongside her in a competition.

“She just really leads with confidence. I appreciate that so much. We really bounced off each other.”

Anna has been pursuing her love of marine science and ecology via her work with the Otago Regional Council this year, travelling all over Otago taking syringe samples from 50 bodies of water to test E-DNA for information about what species live in the water.

“Normally it's quite nice and I am in streams and rivers in Hāwea, Glenorchy, or Wānaka, but today was freezing - and I think my wrists and elbows are thankful that it was my last site,” she says.

When she had her accident, Anna was two days into the trip of a lifetime, with plans to mountain bike and climb in America before beginning a term abroad on exchange at Bamfield Marine Science Centre in Canada.

Bamfield is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to education and research in coastal marine sciences, and it's the dream location for the final term of Anna's BSc.

She says a Bamfield representative emailed her immediately after they found out about the accident, reassuring her they had held her place, refunded her deposits, and that she could come whenever she was ready.

“It gave me hope, and a goal. I kept thinking to myself - I have my mind, I can do this.”

Anna is setting off back to America next month for some “low-key” adventures before starting her long-awaited term at Bamfield, including bike-packing around Vancouver Island.

“I am keeping expectations low but planning on doing lots of climbing and biking.

“I'm excited to see some big mammals, that's something New Zealand doesn't have much of!” she said when asked if she was worried about bears.

She is looking forward to the mahi at Bamfield, especially the paper on diversity of seaweeds.

“I love kelp, to be honest,” she says

“I want to learn about marine plants in marine reserves, and specifically how marine reserves can be implemented in New Zealand.”

When she returns she wants to apply for a Masters at Otago, for which she has been in talks with the ''kelp gurus'' in the Marine Science department.

She says her biggest struggle has been the loss of some of her independence since losing her lower leg.

“I've lost some independence, but I have gained so much empathy. I am so much more aware now of the experiences of people who use wheelchairs or who have had spinal injuries.”

Anna explains that the thing with her injury is that it's often immediately visible.

“Part of my recovery has been acceptance, accepting that people might stare or look and think 'that's not a real leg.'

“At the start you struggle wearing shorts, but I have developed some great strategies. Usually, I just make eye contact and stare back, people are just innately curious.”

Anna is so thankful to everyone for the support they extended during her recovery, she says that knowing she had such a strong support network back home helped her to persevere in hospital in the States and at Burwood.

“I didn't realise I had made an impact on so many different communities, and then when I got home I was just enveloped by all these facets of my life.

“So many people, groups and businesses gave their time, money, mahi and aroha and I couldn't be more appreciative.

“I am just so thankful to the whole Dunedin community.”

-Kōrero by Internal Communications Adviser, Alice Billington

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