Northern Irish blind water skier Janet Gray has settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit following a near-fatal training accident. Eight years ago, Gray collided with a jump ramp inducing several dreadful injuries.
Gray sustained “horrific” injuries after a high-speed collision with a jump ramp during a training session in Florida. While in the hospital, her heart stopped four times and her husband, Paul - who was still in Co Down at the time - was told to prepare for her funeral.
Gray still remembers the day of the accident in March 2004. “I was just going on a routine training exercise to try out a new set of jump skis around the lake and suddenly there was this massive impact as I was whipped at very high speed into the back end of the big metal ski ramp. I wasn’t jumping and I shouldn’t have been anywhere near it but things went wrong.”
“They reckon I hit it with the velocity it takes to rip a seatbelt in two and so it wasn’t good. I got airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. I was on my own, fighting for life,” she says.
“They had told me with the extent of the injuries that I could never walk again,” said Gray, “and I fought harder than I’ve fought for anything in my life and I did get on my feet. For me it was about getting my life back.”
The Belfast Telegraph reports that Gray has settled the matter out-of-court. However, she has also signed a nondisclosure agreement, meaning that the exact figure that she was awarded for her injuries won’t be made public.
“You’ll hear of a $3.5m judgment being mentioned, but I only received a mere fraction of that,” said Gray.
“My costs were horrendous. Although I’d paid for my insurance, I had to pay back all my medical expenses, the legal cover and everything so there was very little left.”
Janet Gray and her family aren’t all too excited with the final outcome of the settlement. “It’s something we’re not happy with but it’s something we’ll have to live with,” she said.
“It turned out to be such a horrible can of worms, but the main thing for me is that I survived.”
At 42 years old in 2004, Janet sustained terrible injuries which included a broken jaw in three places, as well as losing a piece of her skull, some teeth, and a lot of blood. She also broke her nose, cheekbones, a femur and an elbow as well as fracturing ribs.
She recalls the initial time spent in the Florida hospital as being traumatic, mainly since she was on her own and away from her family in Ireland. Even worse, no one from the water ski school was by her side.
“The ski school abandoned me because of the legal implications ... I think that hurt me more than anything, to feel that my coach and the people that I trusted had abandoned me when the chips were down.”
Making a recovery, however, is nothing new to Janet Gray. Having gone blind from a hereditary disease, Gray knew that giving up was not an option when it came to her terrible accident.
“When I lost my sight life ended; I just assumed life was over,” said Gray, whose father and brother both also suffer from the same condition.
“Then I realised that water skiing was a sport I could do as a blind person and that’s when life began again for me.”
“I went through sight loss and not a lot of people do come out the other end,” she said.
After a month in the ICU in Florida, she was transported via air ambulance to a Belfast hospital. Within three years and with the help of intensive rehabilitation at Sports Institute for Northern Ireland at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, Janet was back on skis. She’s looking forward to getting back out on the water again soon.