SELENA Stewart was living a life many would have envied. She was able to indulge her passion for horse-riding as well as training them for work in a circus, and had recently met a group of friends to go with on motorcycle rides.
But a motorbike accident with that same group changed her life forever. Mrs Stewart, 33, was riding with friends on a Melbourne Cup weekend road trip when she crashed her bike on a notorious Healesville bend and was left paraplegic.
She doesn't remember the accident but she has refused to let it define her life. Instead, she embraced a "glass half full" attitude, an approach which has seen her travel to India since her accident, and resume riding on a motorised trike.
Mrs Stewart wants to encourage others to think the same way on Steps for Independence day on Friday, November 16.
"I didn't know what it meant to be in a wheelchair so I decided I wasn't going to decide life was over until I knew what I was up against," she said.
Paraplegics are normally in rehabilitation for three to four months, but because Mrs Stewart also broke her arm, recovery ran over nine months. While some may expect things to go a little smoother after that, it was two years before she was able to move into her parents' house because of a protracted legal process.
Mrs Stewart lived in a nearby hotel until her home was ready and it was here she started to feel depressed.
"I recognised it was happening and gave myself a kick up the bum. Attitude is a choice and I worked on that."
Back at home, Mrs Stewart slowly began to regain some of her independence. "I got my licence and had my car modified with hand controls — that was a huge chunk of independence back because I could go where ever I wanted."
Like many people who suffer a life-changing injury, Mrs Stewart tried to push friends away — in her case, her boyfriend, Adam. "After it all happened I told him to have a good life."
But Adam didn't want to leave and Mrs Stewart spent the next few years avoiding getting too close because she thought a break-up was "inevitable".
However on that trip to India, Adam proposed and they married earlier this year. Next year, the couple will ship his bike and her trike to America for a 10-week road trip.
Mrs Stewart works for Independence Australia and speaks to school students about her experience.
"I knew it was a risky hobby [motorcycling] but I always took safety precautions. Hopefully, the message does get through."